Money Smart Athlete Blog

What is a Brand and what are Image Rights?

Nov 1, 2017 | The Athlete's Brand

What is a Brand?

The term “brand” has been used through the years with different meanings attached to it. From initially being used by cattle ranchers to describe the process of using branding irons to mark their animals with their “brand”, to using “brand” as the name given to a product or service from a specific source. Today, we also use the term “personal brand” as we consider every person to have their own set of unique characteristics. Everything you say and do is a reflection of your own independent brand. Athletes have a personal brand, which is more recognizable than that of an average person, because of the fame and attention that usually comes from competing in professional sports.

We can define athletes’ brand as their promise to their fans, their own personal goodwill. Personal goodwill in identity is the force that attracts one to a famous individual and gives the individual commercial value because of their fame. An athlete’s brand is derived from who he is, who he wants to be and who people perceive him to be. When athletes choose to develop their personal brand and follow a well-crafted brand strategy, they can monetize the success of today in the long term and transform themselves from sports-related VIPs, to business-related VIPs with a life time duration.

The strength of a sports star’s brand equity is key in the influence he or she exerts in their community. The main components of brand equity strength are athletic performance which encompasses athletic expertise, competition style and sportsmanship, attractive appearance which includes physical attractiveness, body fitness and personal style and marketable lifestyle which includes the athlete’s character style and credibility, his/her life story and his/her relationship with fans.

The added value intrinsic to brand equity comes in the form of emotional attachment to the athlete from his/her audience or fan-base, which puts the athlete in a position of substantial influence over his or her audience’s purchasing habits.

What are Image Rights?

Image rights are the expression of a personality in the public domain.  The provision of image rights in law enables the definition, valuation, commercial exploitation and protection of image rights associated with a person.

The right of publicity, often called personality right, is the right of an individual to control the commercial use of his or her name, image, likeness, or other unequivocal aspects of one’s identity.  It is generally considered a property right as opposed to a personal right and as such, the validity of the right of publicity can survive the death of an individual.

Personality rights are generally considered to consist of two types of rights:

  • the right of publicity
  • and the right to privacy

In common law jurisdictions, publicity rights fall into the realm of the tort or passing off.  US jurisprudence has substantially extended the right through the notion of natural rights and the idea that every individual should have a right to control how, his or her persona is commercialized by third parties with the intent of making a profit.

The image of an athlete is clearly an asset with commercial value. The commercial value of the sports celebrity image lies within, it is the athlete’s own, personal goodwill and it can be a lucrative money earner for athletes. Image rights are capable of generating revenue streams and cash flows and they are assets capable of being sold or licensed on their own and they arise out of contractual or other legal rights.

An athlete can exploit his or her image rights by entering into a variety of commercial deals that include an athlete’s name, nicknames, likeness, image, photograph, signature, autograph, initials, statements, endorsement, physical details, voice and other personal characteristics.

It is important to note though, that unlike a copyright, a sports celebrity’s image is an exhaustive asset.  While it may seem like certain celebrities push the limit, i.e. pre-scandal Tiger Woods, David Beckham, or nowadays Ronaldo, none can lend their name to an infinite number of companies or products.