European IP Helpdesk

Bulletin No. 1 Licensing


The spirit of sports has changed from its original objective: In earlier times, athletes used to play for the pleasure of doing sports, for keeping good health and participating in a game, whether they would win or not. For some decades now, this no longer seems to be the main motivation for elite athletes to participate in a game. Glory, notoriety and wealth have also become key factors for elite athletes.

The monetisation of IPRs in sports has rapidly changed their mentality and that of the executives working for sport clubs Over time and particularly during the first half of the 80’s, many sports underwent a metamorphosis. Clubs signed juicy agreements with companies willing to associate their brands with the names of the clubs. That was the beginning of what we can now see at stadiums, streets, pay TV, sportswear stores, etc.

Sports adapted to our globalised world where athletes became super stars, clubs and the top sports organisations signed multi-million agreements to license their brands and associate it with all kind of souvenirs, products and the media content as we know it today. It is no wonder that intellectual property (IP) cannot be separated from this development.

Clubs, athletes, sport organisations, sports-related companies, technology developers, technology holders and other rights owners became generators of IPRs. There is, in fact, a very close link between all of them as they share an important slice of the cake.

Licensing IPR in sports events

There are plenty of examples of how sport organisations have maximised their revenues by licensing their IPR to third parties allowing them to be associated with the events organised by the worldwide federations. The Olympic Games, the FIFA World Cup Football championships and the UEFA Champions League are on top of this list and generate impressive figures every time an event takes place. Over time, they were joined by other sports-related organisations which have learned from them and started doing the same. By now, there are at least 57 international sport federations recognised by the International Olympic Committee. They also organise their worldwide events and are just below the main sports chain detailed above. Though the purpose of those events is meant to be non-profit, the reality suggests something else.

In terms of figures, licensing of media rights for the period of 2013-2016 represented revenues for $ 4,157 million dollars to the International Olympic Committee, 47% of their whole income for that period. This gives us an idea of the figures that the top sports organisations can receive in such a short period of time.1

The political and economic power of top sport organisations can also influence beyond the game as such. Local authorities of host countries have to adapt their domestic legislation to the protection of the IPRs of the events. In the majority of cases, new laws concerning the protection of Olympic properties have to be enacted containing measures against ambush marketing, antipiracy measures, etc. The final purpose is to protect the value of their rights and to preserve them.

Similar situations occur when it comes to the protection of the FIFA World Cup properties before, during and after a World Cup event.

With regards to the revenue of FIFA for the 2015 to 2018 budget cycle, there are many sources estimating around $ 6 billion USD, such as the CNBC, the New York Times and Forbes. More than $ 4 billion of that total came from the World Cup Russia in 2018.2

The bid of Canada, Mexico and the U.S. for the 2026

FIFA World Cup is expected to generate more than $14 billion in revenue and $11 billion in profits for FIFA.3 The licensing of media and other products plays an important role in such revenues.

IP as a game changer: technological developments in sports

On the other hand, several technological developments have also been disclosed during some sport events through the history and some others have been created to control the game or perform better while playing. New inventions were launched such as timing consistency in Los Angeles 1932; televised broadcast in Berlin 1936 and London 1948; electronic timing in Tokyo 1964 and virtual imaging in Sydney 2000. These innovations “helped improving the accuracy and the enjoyment of the Games for athletes and spectators, and led to technological innovations in other venues long after the Olympic competitions ended”.4

Some particular sports have also developed and have been modernised from what they used to be. For the first time in competitions, rowing implemented GPS tracking in 2008. Many sports have required infrared beams to determine finishing times. Taekwondo implemented sensors in vests during 2012 and headgear in 2016. Important developments have also helped disabled athletes to better perform while competing with new materials for prosthetics. The most famous case relates to Oscar Pistorius; the disabled South African athlete that could compete against non-disabled athletes.5 As it can be seen, most of such developments have required IP protection.

With regards to football, there have been recent changes to the conservative rules that had been in place for many decades and were an integral part of the game. Spectators and players benefit from them. There have been many technological implementations such as the hawk eye, which controls the position of the ball, Goal-Line Technology (GLT), VAR or video-assisted referee controlling and Electronic Performance & Tracking Systems (EPTS). All these innovations have completely changed the game turning it into a modern game aiming to be fair.6 These innovations are based

From Innovation to Monetisation: Intellectual Property Rights in Sports

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