Supporting Canadian Athletes

Ownership and Image Rights

When it comes to sponsorship agreements, an athlete usually receives funding or incentives in exchange for control over the athlete’s ownership rights, image rights or property. Every athlete begins with natural proprietary rights over the use of his or her name and image. However, some of these rights may be transferred to the NSO as a result of an athlete agreement. If there are no provisions explicitly laid out in the agreement, make sure to ask the NSO about ownership rights. If the athlete has already contracted certain ownership rights to the NSO, he or she cannot then contract those same rights to a different sponsor.

Russ Reimer – Ownership & Image Rights

Depending on the NSO, there may be rules restricting types of sponsorships or advertising. For example, the NSO may restrict advertisements from personal sponsors on equipment or uniforms. As a result of the athlete agreement, athletes are subject to these rules. For example, if a potential sponsor requires you to display advertising on your uniform, and your NSO prohibits it, then you should not sign the deal!

It is important to ensure that the obligations the athlete owes to a potential sponsor don’t conflict with the obligations he or she owes to the NSO. Athletes should consult the particular athlete agreement to determine what explicit rights the NSO may hold over image and equipment. It is important to contact the NSO before signing any potential athlete or sponsorship agreement to clarify what equipment or clothing can be used as advertising space.

Control over image is possibly the most important consideration when entering into any sponsorship agreement. The largest asset athletes have to offer any potential sponsor is image, and it is therefore important to maintain a positive one. Some NSO athlete agreements require athletes to relinquish their image rights, while others offer a more balanced division of who owns what.

At the same time, it is important to be wary of the potential issues that could persist as a result of contracting image rights to a sponsor. The athlete should consider what types of brands he or she wants to be associated with. Does the brand have a history of questionable conduct? If a sponsor receives a lot of negative press coverage down the road, this could reflect on the athlete’s image through association with their brand.


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