Gareth Bale did not have to stand on an 8m-high temporary platform for his unveiling as a €100 million signing to recognise he had swapped Tottenham Hotspur for a truly global stage at Real Madrid. The 24-year-old was already well aware of his commercial appeal.
In March he registered a stylised rendering of his ‘trademark’ goal celebration, which creates a heart shape from the contact of his index fingers and thumbs, as exactly that: a trademark with the UK government’s Intellectual Property Office.
This superstar stature enjoyed by modern footballers means the modern transfer includes many more complex issues than merely two clubs agreeing a fee and the player accepting a wage package. And as negotiations meandered over 110 days in Bale’s switch from London to Madrid, there were significant commercial considerations.
Alan Wetterhahn of Fladgate LLP was involved in the legal aspects of the world-record transfer. He explains: “With someone like Gareth there’s an element of Brand Bale so lots of issues can arise.
“The money in football is becoming bigger and, as with any big-money transaction, it gets complicated. It’s nice when, as with Gareth, the [club’s] technical sponsor and the [player’s] boot sponsor match because there is no issue there.”
That is not always the case. Another major deal of the transfer window saw Mesut Özil leave Real Madrid for Arsenal. The £42.4 million deal is the second highest ever paid by an English club but the fact it was discussed and resolved only in the final days of the trading period was more in spite of prevailing circumstances.
Özil wears Adidas boots, and was playing for the highest-profile Adidas club at Madrid. At Arsenal he will be playing in Nike shirts, for this season at least, before the Emirates Stadium club migrates to Puma from the 2014-15 season. It is unlikely Özil will ever be seen alone in Arsenal marketing material.
“Sometimes it’s about squaring that circle between boot sponsors and technical sponsors,” added Wetterhahn. ”The typical contract has a carve-out for a boot deal. When Cristiano Ronaldo is promoting Real Madrid kit he’s wearing Adidas kit with his Nike boots but in the pictures you won’t only have Ronaldo alone but always he’ll be one of a group.
“Players who are paid a lot of money by brands for their endorsement rights who are in a team where there might be conflicts with these personal commercial deals are not seen as specifically endorsing the club sponsor’s brand as long as they are photographed as one of a group of players. You’ll notice this in kit launches for instance.
“A carve-out in player contracts for boots is becoming quite standard because they all have boot deals. But problems sometimes occur when you have players who are sponsored by Nike or Adidas and the deal is wider than footwear.
“Adidas and Nike make sunglasses and watches and the player has to be made aware of what obligations he has and to make sure the deals accommodate each other.”
If FFP is working, what message does the £630m transfer spend send
UEFA’s general secretary was unequivocal last Friday when discussing Financial Fair Play. “Clubs are clearly getting the message because something is happening,” he said. The timing of the message was perhaps a little unfortunate.
The clamour from fans to purchase new talent at vast expense presents pressures for club executives across Europe to pay ‘whatever it takes’ to bring fresh baubles to their clubs. (After all, how else could Florentino Perez have 80,000 socios chanting “Vale, vale, vale…” at him other than by signing the Welshman with the homophonic name?)
That clamour has translated in a market where Arsène Wenger, signer of a cheque for £42.4 million for Özil, could find “no value”. Perhaps he is right, for that market saw English top-flight clubs spend, reportedly (and I have reservations about the headline figures reported by clubs and media because the cash payments seldom reflect the claims in reality), some £630 million, or €744 million.
According to UEFA’s most recent Club Licensing Benchmarking Report the total spent in 2011 was €2.388 billion, or £2.022 billion across the 679 clubs in its analysis.
The Premier League can probably for the most part afford what it has spent on its new horseflesh. But it can hardly have helped UEFA’s deflationary messaging that only 20 entities should splurge about a third of what was spent by 679 in the years before FFP.