In the professional team sports such as football and rugby union, professional clubs and their advisers have for some time recognised the value of young players particularly in light of the decisions of the European Court and Court of Arbitration for Sport regarding player registration transfer and development compensation systems. We have witnessed the growth of “player power” in these professional sports, with players and their agents able to secure substantial signing on fees when joining new clubs or loyalty bonuses for signing new contracts with their existing clubs.
Unfortunately these increased benefits have not been enjoyed in all sports, even with the advent of Sports Lottery money, where available.
Furthermore, whilst the growth in spending power of professional players has led to an increased involvement of lawyers and other advisers to assist players in these sports, again such opportunities may not have appeared so readily available to players and athletes in the Olympic sports.
An athlete’s career may be relatively short and whilst young athletes will, quite rightly, wish to focus their talents upon achieving their personal sporting goals, someone needs to be looking out for their future. Coaches and parents have a crucial role to play, but may benefit from independent professional support. The objectives must surely be: –
- to maximise the income potential for a young athlete recognising the possibility of a short term career;
- to provide financial assistance to cover against career ending or interrupting injury; and
- to prepare for life after the playing career. Devising a wealth management strategy.
A longer-term partnership approach is needed between advisers, young athletes and their coaches and parents. Whilst future educational and career development will no doubt require external support which may be provided through athletes’ organisations and governing bodies, a lot can be done by careful management of an athlete’s business affairs.
Advisers/agents may be remunerated by securing commissions from sponsorship and other commercial deals which may unfortunately lead to the potential for conflict between the athlete and agent: if the agent as a business imperative requires “new” deals in order to recoup commission income then the longer term professional needs of the client may be compromised in the pursuit of monetary gain. Alternatively, longer-term deals may pay good commissions but may prejudice the athlete whose personal needs may have moved on. There may be a conflict of interest (between agent and athlete) inherent in this situation.
As an alternative, provision of legal and/or management support could be sought where professional fees would be charged on an agreed fee basis, whether this is in relation to the negotiation of contracts with sponsors or the provision of other advice generally. The payment of agreed fees rather than commission ensures that young athletes and their parents receive the best available professional advice irrespective of the outcome of any particular business transaction.
At BHW, our solicitors and business advisers understand the need to ensure that the right range of services are available in a manner which is affordable. For more details on our sports services, contact me by email at [email protected] or Claire Bell at [email protected]
Head of Sports Law