Why the rise in footballers' image rights values mean clubs and players are locked in contract negotiations for longer

Ehsen Shah
Cristiano Ronaldo Florentino Perez
Cristiano Ronaldo's contract negotiations with Real Madrid have been dominated with image rights disputs (Source: Getty)
hen David Beckham was asked in 2002 why his contract negotiations with Manchester United, which eventually took a year to complete, were taking so long, he was frank in his response.

“It’s not the salary that’s a problem,” he admitted. “It’s just the image rights that needed a little perking.”

Go onto any football social media feed this month and you will see fans furiously asking why their clubs take so long in concluding transfer deals or contract renewals.

For those expert negotiators on Football Manager or Fifa, agreeing a new deal may seem as straightforward as settling on a weekly wage and signing the paperwork.

If only it were so simple.

Read more: Why the fall-out of Manchester United and Jose Mourinho image rights negotiations could be worth millions

Of course, negotiations between club and player do involve the obvious: the weekly wage and bonus agreement, referred to in the industry as a Schedule 2 agreement.

But what is frequently forgotten is the image rights deal.

Increasingly, this is where some complications occur as clubs and players grapple over the ever-more lucrative commercial opportunities in football.

Clubs tend to take as much from the image rights deal as possible. And the reason is simple: to enhance their hand with existing and future commercial partners.

David Beckham of Manchester United and manager Alex Ferguson
Beckham's 2002 contract with Manchester United took a year to negotiate due to image rights (Source: Getty)

Players or managers will be presented with a standard template club image rights contract hugely in favour of the club. It is down to the player’s representatives to negotiate the best possible deal, protecting their client’s commercial and marketing assets.

The most recent high-profile example of a complication on this issue came during Jose Mourinho’s appointment by Manchester United last summer.

Chelsea still owned a portion of Mourinho’s image rights, which United would have been understandably desperate to purchase due to the marketing appeal of the self-styled Special One.

Indeed, Mourinho has already been incorporated into club-branded adverts with United’s kit manufacturer Adidas.

But could an image rights dispute actually cause a transfer to fall through in January?

Probably not, as the buying club in most cases agrees to the player representatives’ demands.

After all, if playing terms have been agreed, it is a pretty good sign that both club and player see each other as a good fit and want to make a deal happen.

But for a representative of a player with a high profile and high commercial value, it is now a crucial part of their job to hold stern negotiations to protect their clients’ interests.

Read more: This is Pogboom - How the Paul Pogba brand will help Manchester United pay back world record £89m fee

Those negotiations will surround the use of marketing rights and blocked-out commercial categories, which prevent the player from working with brands that conflict with their own commercial partners.

Players and representatives will want their client to be as free as possible to enhance their earning potential off the pitch in the categories they see fit for their own personal brand.

Beckham was the trailblazer in this regard, but even these types of negotiations are now extremely common and will soon be seen in the majority of player contract deals.

So, what does this mean for clubs? They now need to leave much longer negotiation periods; gone are the days of one-day start-to-finish contract talks.

As for those fans hoping for new signings at their club, this January they may need to practice a bit of patience.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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