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Football Players and Trade Marks

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world-cup-2018-3409220_1280The 2018 FIFA Football World Cup is well underway in Russia with the teams having played through most of the group games at the time of writing. England fans’ spirits remain unhealthily optimistic with the Three Lions having recorded their highest ever victory in a World Cup match at the weekend with a 6:1 win over Panama. Other major teams have looked unconvincing it must be said, with Argentina scraping through to the knock-out stages a couple of nights ago and defending champions Germany failing to progress out of the group stages following three abysmal performances. Who knows maybe it is England’s year after all…

Although football is the main focus, it’s hard not to notice the role that branding and sponsorships play at the World Cup. Many businesses want their brand to be associated with (and profit from) the world’s most widely viewed sporting event. Following the recent news that England striker Jesse Lingard has registered his goal celebration as a trade mark, we thought we’d have a little look into other trade marks that footballers have registered to protect their personal brands, enabling them to reap rewards both on and off the pitch.

As our readers will know, registration is the most effective way to secure rights to trade marks. Without a registration, these players would need to rely on unregistered rights where available, which can be difficult (and expensive) to establish and enforce.

Many IP savvy footballers own registered trade marks to assist the monetisation of their fame. A recent EU court decision ruled that the Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi was so famous that consumers of sports equipment and clothing would not confuse his logo (shown below) with Spanish cycling gear manufacture, MASSI. Messi owns one of the largest trade mark portfolios of all leading players, with 76 registered marks, primarily for his name, his logo and his signature.

messi logo

Neymar Jr has also been active in trade mark registration, with over 50 registrations covering his name and logo (see below).


As you may expect, Cristiano Ronaldo hasn’t missed a trick and has sought to capitalise on his fame by branching out into his own clothing line under his CR7 trade mark, which he has protected through registration, together with registrations for his name. However, Christopher Renzi tried to oppose Ronaldo’s underwear range entering the US market back in 2014. CR7 also features in another registered trade mark, owned by Pestana Cr7 – Madeira Hotel Investimentos Turísticos, a hotel on Ronaldo’s home island of Madeira which is a collaboration between the hotel group Pestana and the island’s most famous celebrity.


Whilst England were preparing for their first warm-up game against Nigeria last month, Cheshire born striker Jesse Lingard tactically applied for four trade marks with the UKIPO. Three of the trade marks feature his nickname ‘Jlingz’ and another features the image of his goal celebration (exhibited in England’s win over Panama) in which Lingard hides his head behind his hands, which have been shaped into his two initials. His applications cover Class 25 only and, once registered, the protection for his celebration imagery will be tied to clothing, footwear and headgear but not the performance of the celebration itself.


By getting in early, safeguarding revenue against his name and developing a broader lifestyle presentation, the “Jlingz” brand will be well placed to take advantage of many commercial opportunities at this year’s World Cup.

Despite an inspiring underdog effort to get to the semi-finals of the 2016 UEFA European Championships, Wales are nowhere to be seen at this year’s World Cup. Our Welsh comrades failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup meaning there is no chance that we will be seeing Gareth Bale’s ‘Eleven of Hearts’ goal celebration, which he registered in 2013. He has since surrendered the trade mark, perhaps worried it would be attacked on the grounds of non-use… It seems that we may have to wait until La Liga resumes in mid-August to see this celebration again (assuming Bale stays at Real Madrid that is…).


Moving away from football for a moment, it doesn’t take too long to arrive at two of the biggest names in athletics when thinking of recognisable celebrations in sport. Usain Bolt and Mo Farah have both registered their celebrations as trade marks in a similar manner to Lingard and Bale above. Bolt’s “Lightning Bolt” celebration is registered in figurative form (see below), covering classes 9, 14, 16, 18, 25, 28 with another registration also covering classes 32 and 41. British long distance runner Mo Farah instead chose to register his celebration as a word “MOBOT” instead of registering the figurative appearance.


Back to the World Cup and Lingard’s England teammate and the Three Lions’ captain Harry Kane also owns a UK registered logo mark comprised of his initials and name (see below).


By registering their trade marks, sports men and women are better placed to license their rights to third parties seeking to benefit from a little bit of stardust. Perhaps the most commercially astute and well marketed name in recent footballing history is David Beckham. It is therefore unsurprising that the ex-Manchester United, Real Madrid and LA Galaxy star owns a number of trade marks. Both David and Posh own trade marks for their own names, as well as trade marks for all their children (Brooklyn, Romeo, Cruz and Harper). David associates his name with a range of products, including the DAVID BECKHAM INSTINCT, an aftershave for those who want to smell just like their hero. David has been a long-time collaborator with Adidas, the sporting goods manufacturer, who have released an untold number of Beckham-branded sports items during his career. A personal favourite were the Adidas Predator boots that Beckham wore, featuring his logo trade mark on the tongue.


One of the stranger trade marks in the Beckhams’ portfolio is ‘SMOKEY BECKHAM’ covering crisps in class 29. The trade mark was assigned to Beckham in 2001 following a legal dispute with a Kent-based businessman who had previously registered the name. Walkers Crisps received thousands of suggestions from the public to release a ‘Smokey Beckham’ flavour but this ultimately came to nothing. Walkers had previously enjoyed successful marketing campaigns after the 1998 World Cup featuring footballers Gary Lineker and Michael Owen, resulting in the flavours ‘Salt and Lineker’ and ‘Cheese and Owen’. Despite the lack of ‘Smokey Beckham’ flavoured crisps, David Beckham has cultivated such a strong brand that he has continued to profit from his image for some time after his playing days.

It is not just the players that are protecting their trade marks; the clubs they play for are in the trade mark game too. Research conducted by World Trademark Review revealed that, for the third year in a row, Manchester United boasted the most trade marks of any club in the English Premier League, with over 400 marks in its portfolio. However, many other notable clubs such as Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur, also have a range of trade marks under their ownership. Liverpool already have a registered trade mark for YNWA, referring to their fan song ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ and a published trade mark application for FOREVER REDS. Most recently, Liverpool applied to register a logo for ‘SGG Apparel’, which may well be associated with Steven Gerrard. However, the application has been opposed by two Italian companies; Lotto Sport and Errea Sport.


As evident from the above, the sky really is the limit with what aspects of your brand you want to protect. Trade marks are everywhere: on the pitch, on the player’s kit and now even their names and goal celebrations. The World Cup provides a global stage for the players to attempt to maximise their commercial appeal and marketing potential. Now that their trade marks have been protected, it’s time for the hardest part… performing well at the World Cup!

Amelia Skelding and Timo Haslam  28 June 2018

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