The Premier league and Trade Marks

In Arsenal Football Club Plc v Reed, the Advocate General drew attention to the status of great football clubs as “genuine emporia”, generating profits not only at the turnstile but through TV rights, internet business and merchandising.

He also quoted no less an authority than Real Madrid’s marketing director who in 2002 said that:

“Loyalty to football teams is very strong. This level of loyalty of supporters is such that it would be a dream for brands in any other sector, which are always more exposed to the vagaries of the market.”

Brands are critical to the financial gains which can be obtained through sport. Take baseball for example, where the New York Yankees “NY” logo has become one of the most famous brands in the world. There is also the Australian Football League (AFL) who own the logos for every team involved and therefore are able to sell official merchandise on each club’s behalf.

Football teams across the country go to great lengths to ensure every aspect of their club is protected. An example of this is shown by Manchester United FC having a registered trade mark for their club mascot, “FRED THE RED”, and Liverpool FC registering their famous stand “THE KOP” under classes 18, 25 and 28.

Last week it was estimated that Manchester United and England forward Wayne Rooney is the wealthiest English born footballer in the English Premier League with an estimated net worth of £45 million according to a Wealth X top ten list that includes three other players from his team. Rio Ferdinand, Michael Carrick and Ashley Young also made the list for “The Red Devils”, bringing the combined net worth of these four teammates to £111 million. Therefore, perhaps unsurprisingly, it isn’t just the football clubs who make money through their logos. Some players become so iconic that they have created their own brand and are reaping the benefits from doing so.

Take Cristiano Ronaldo and his “CR7” brand in which he is currently the trade mark holder under classes 9, 14, 16, 25, 28, 32, 33, 35, 38, 41 and 43. He has training equipment, a line of football boots manufactured by NIKE, and now even underwear in which have his brand embroidered across the waist band. All of this alongside his huge salary has allowed his estimated worth to reach the heights of around £80 million. This is a clear example of how necessary it is to protect a brand which has the possibility, with the right marketing, to make an individual icon millions of pounds.

Another interesting yet reasonably unknown trade mark registration within the world of football is that of “KING COLE”. Joe Cole took the unusual, precautionary step of registering the nickname “KING COLE” as a trade mark in 1998, four months before he had even made his first team debut for West Ham. However, Joe’s registration was by no means straightforward. Andy Cole, the then Manchester United Striker opposed Joe’s application arguing that he had prior claim to the nickname, having using it throughout is illustrious career. However, after a three year legal battle, the Intellectual Property Office rejected his argument.

Cristiano Ronaldo’s brand alongside Tiger Woods’ “TW” brand, Roger Federer’s “RF” brand and Joe Cole’s “KING COLE” are all secure via trade mark protection. This is the best form of protection when it comes to protecting the brand assets of sports teams, codes, competitions and individual athletes.

Once you have achieved full ownership of your brand you must actively enforce and protect in order to realise the full commercial benefit. Therefore, once you have the registered trade mark for the name, it is important to then register the domain name, register social media accounts for the name, register business names. All should be done whilst remaining proactive in your search for people who may be using the brand without your permission.

Once this has all been accomplished there are different ways in which you can commercialise your brand. It is thought that licensing may be the most profitable, achieved through issuing others with the right to use your brand in order to create merchandise, and then receiving license fees and royalties. For the biggest brands these fees can often creep into the millions.

Licensing is not the only way in which a sport’s brand can make money. However, what is for certain is that unless the brand is a registered trade mark from the very outset, the growth of your brand will be non-existent.

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