While Kylian Mbappé’s transfer to Real Madrid is progressing smoothly, the notion of “image rights” has come to appear in these bipartisan negotiations. An aspect that the entourage of the French would try somehow to keep despite the reluctance of Madrid leaders. And in the middle of all this, an economic dispute that is difficult to understand. Attempt at clarification with Vincent Chaudel, specialist in sports marketing.
Image rights reflect the evolution of the sports economy. Basically, the players were only employees, paid to train and play. The clubs’ income was then mainly linked to ticketing. But with the globalization of football, TV rights have begun to take an essential place, and with them, these famous image rights. TV rights are generally negotiated by leagues or federations, which then distribute the money to clubs for the former and to players for the latter. We then speak of “collective image”, and this is what represents, today, a significant part of the salaries of players. The greater the TV rights of a club, the more the image rights of the players, for sponsors or advertisements, will increase.
“The players do what they want, within the framework of the legal constraints. For example, when sports betting was banned in France, French players were prohibited from posing for gambling sites, as it was not within the scope of the law. »
This “collective picture” is therefore not related to advertisements or other visual appearances that a player could make, individually.
Individual image rights allow players to choose such and such a sponsor, and to be its muse. On this, there is no ethical problem, since it is the player and his entourage who sign a contract. The only problem to manage in this case is the potential conflict of interest between the sponsor of the player and the sponsor of the club or the national team, in the event of competition between the two.
What does the French regulation say about the image of the player? Between what he can do, alone, on his side, and his appearances on behalf of his club or his selection.
In France, the regulations changed during the 1978 World Cup. At that time, the federation provided the jersey, shorts, socks and shoes. But Michel Platini wanted to have his own crampons, for commercial or comfort reasons. We then found a compromise, allowing him to play with the shoes of his choice, made up in black, so as not to come into conflict with the supplier of the French team. (Adidas). Then, it evolved, and we decided that the crampons were no longer dependent on the equipment, but constituted a continuity of the player’s body. This allowed clubs to sign a contract with an kit supplier for the shirt, shorts and socks and leave the field open to the player for the rest.
Apart from the equipment manufacturers and as you summarize it, the players are therefore free to engage with any sponsor.
Players do what they want, within legal constraints. For example, when sports betting was banned in France, French players were prohibited from posing for gambling sites, as it was not within the scope of the law.
In the negotiations between Kylian Mbappé’s entourage and Real Madrid, the crux of the negotiations would thus concern the player’s desire to control a large part of his image rights. Something that Florentino Pérez would not really be ready to allow. What about, first of all, the operation at PSG?
PSG, as an employer, has the right to solicit any player, because it has a relationship of subordination with its employees. The minimum provided for a sponsor within a club is the presence of five players. From five, they are “obligated” to appear in the planned advertisements. When signing a contract, each player has a clause in which he is registered: “Club Z solicits player Y for an advertising appearance X times in the year. » The only thing they can negotiate is the exploitation of their image, alone. For example, if UNIBET wants to exploit only the image of Mbappé, it would have had to negotiate with the player himself, who would then have had a right of refusal. The only exception, for a club to advertise with only one player, is if there is a clause that specifies this in a prior contract.
“Pérez bet everything on the image of his players, displaying everywhere Beckham, Figo, Ronaldo and Zidane. The model obviously worked, but more importantly, none of them had full control of their image. »
At Real Madrid, the operation is not the same.
In the Real Madrid model, invented by Florentino Pérez with the Galacticos, financing comes mainly from the internationalization of the club. Everything therefore goes through the monetization of Meringues. Pérez bet everything on the image of his players, displaying everywhere Beckham, Figo, Ronaldo and Zidane. The model obviously worked, but more importantly, none of them had full control of their image. The club has always kept control of its cash flow.
For Mbappé, these questions did not start in club, but in selection.
In this specific case, the FFF is caught in a vice, because there is no relationship of subordination with Mbappé, not being an employee of the France team. He does not receive a salary in Blue, but bonuses. Thus, there is no contract binding the French federation to its players, there is only an agreement, which one signs when arriving in the national team. It even extends up to five years after the players’ international retirement. For Mbappé, the problem is therefore not financial, but moral. He wants to make his image rights a matter of conscience. He does not want to be a prisoner of this convention, forcing him to represent a brand with a “bad reputation”, which can be understood.
The teams of France have already experienced such an example? Athletes who refuse to comply with the demands of their federations?
There is the French tennis team, in the Davis Cup. The tennis players have managed to keep their own equipment suppliers, although the selection is sponsored by Lacoste. The only two constraints imposed on them is that they all come dressed in blue, with a T-shirt on which is marked “France” on the back, and that their tracksuit bottoms are Lacoste. But in this case, the contract with Lacoste no longer has any value, because it is not with a warm-up tracksuit that you will make millions of euros profitable.
“Real Madrid is not PSG, it is partly managed by socios and does not have a foreign investor able to cushion the losses of an advertising contract. »
At Real Madrid, whose financial windfall differs from that of PSG, it would therefore seem complicated to leave Kylian Mbappé complete freedom over his brand image.
Real Madrid, but especially Florentino Pérez, because he is the “inventor” of this model, will never take the risk of losing his advertising contracts for a player, however Mbappé may be. (As advertised El País, Real Madrid generally refuses to grant more than 50% of the image rights for a player. The only exception was Cristiano Ronaldo, who received 60% of his advertising revenue for the club, Ed.) Real Madrid is not PSG, it is partly managed by the socios and does not have a foreign investor able to absorb the losses of an advertising contract. Paris can afford to say to Mbappé, “negotiate what you want, with whom you want” Real Madrid has less of this latitude, because it needs to share this income with its star players, part of whose salaries are linked to this image.
The people of Madrid will thus not go further, on this aspect in any case?
It will be very difficult to bend Florentino Pérez. And the negotiations are mainly about that, beyond any other aspect. (According to the Spanish press, Pérez has made a final offer, but will not go any further: Real Madrid would be ready to offer 35 million euros in sponsorship to Kylian Mbappé, i.e. 70% of the income he will make through the advertising bias. The Madrid management would therefore only keep 30%, or 10 million, Ed.) Real Madrid will do everything to keep the important part of the income, for the stability of their club. It would be difficult for them to weaken an ecosystem that has been working for more than twenty years, for a single player. Obviously they would be more conciliatory in the negotiations, given the standing of Kylian Mbappé, but not to the point of questioning their economic model.
Interview by Adel Bentaha