Application of the Right of Publicity to Sports Entertainment

Application of the Right of Publicity to Sports Entertainment

In the fast-paced industry of sports entertainment, there’s this one thing that often gets brushed aside — the right of publicity. But let me tell you, this right isn’t just some legal jargon; it’s your ticket to playing the game of identity and creativity in the sports industry.

And you know what else? Understanding the depth of the Right of Publicity is key. It’s not just about the game on the field; it’s about the legal score that shapes athletes’ careers and the rulebook that governs their professional journey.

That’s why in this blog, we’ll explore the Right of Publicity within the context of sports entertainment and its significance. Plus, we’re taking a closer look at the legal ins and outs and how they’ve evolved, especially for athletes and their commercial endorsements.Intellectual Property and Its Relevance

Intellectual Property and Its Relevance

When it’s all about sports and entertainment, it’s crucial to recognize the importance of Intellectual Property (IP) rights. These rights provide legal protection, ensuring athletes, sports franchises, and businesses aren’t copied or replicated without their say-so.

Now, let’s break it down into the three main types of IP rights athletes need to know about:

– Trademark: This protective shield stands guard against any unauthorized use of brand names, logos, symbols, or slogans connected to athletes, sports teams, or sporting events. It ensures no one messes with their unique identity without permission, preserving their credibility and worth.

– Copyright: In the sports field, copyright extends its cover over original works like written content, broadcasts, films, or artistic creations. It shields these works against unauthorized reproduction, distribution, or display without the creator’s say, thereby conserving their original essence and value.

– Right of Publicity: This right gives athletes control over their name, image, and likeness (NIL) in commercials. Think of it as their stage; they decide when and where they take the spotlight. Such as, how their identity is employed in endorsements, advertisements, or other commercial endeavors

These rights? They’re not just legal talk; they’re the foundation behind protecting innovation, originality, and the buzz around athletes and their brands.

Trademark Law in Sports and Athlete’s Property Rights  

Listen, trademarks in sports aren’t just logos on jerseys; they’re the DNA of brand identity. They ensure athletes and sports teams stand out in the crowd and, truthfully, protect what’s theirs in the fast-paced world of sports.

And guess what? Athletes also have their property rights, specifically in their name, image, and likeness (NIL). This isn’t just about brand names and logos; it’s about them, their game, their story.

Trademark Law in Sports and Athlete's Property Rights  Now, let’s tackle how trademark law plays into this.

Trademark Disputes and Athletes’ Rights

Imagine this: legal battles over team logos or college apparel deals. It’s not just about colors and symbols; it’s about who owns what in the world of sports merchandise.

Take, for instance, the Washington Redskins/Commanders case. Their name change was more than just rebranding; it was a legal tango between trademarks, public sentiment, and brand identity.

And here’s a fun fact: this isn’t new. Athletes have been monetizing their image rights for a while now. Remember those baseball trading cards? They were just the beginning.

Recent legal cases, like Daniels v. Fanduel, have put the spotlight on the complexities of using athletes’ NIL in fantasy sports. They’re sparking conversations about how athletes’ identities are used and, more importantly, how to protect their rights in this evolving landscape.

This evolution isn’t just about the legalities; it’s about athletes owning their game, their story, and their paycheck in the ever-evolving world of sports.  Ranging from endorsements to live-action and digital appearances.

Student-Athletes and the Right of Publicity

You’ve got these cases, like O’Bannon v. NCAA and Jenkins v. NCAA, that shook things up. These legal battles put a spotlight on the restrictions student-athletes faced in profiting from their name, image, and likeness (NIL), due to NCAA scholarship policies.

O’Bannon v. NCAA  case was ground-breaking as it threw light on how the NCAA benefited from the exploitation of student-athletes’ identities for commercial gain. That didn’t sit well with anyone, as it shouldn’t. Then came Jenkins v. NCAA, taking it a step further and questioning the very rules of the game. The Supreme Court’s stance further emphasized the need to reassess how student-athlete’s rights are perceived and protected.

But guess what? It was a win for the players! This led to the adoption of NIL compensation. It wasn’t just about playing ball anymore; these athletes now have the power to make moves, secure endorsements, and sponsorships, and explore profitable ventures using their name and skills.

It’s all about fairness and giving these college athletes the chance to make the most out of their identities. It’s a win-win situation for them, finally having a say in how they cash in on their game while navigating through their college sports careers.

Implications of NIL in SportsImplications of NIL in Sports

Now that we know how the adoption of NIL compensation came to be, let’s take a look at both the benefits and challenges of this pivotal shift in college sports.


– Financial empowerment: NIL compensation allows student-athletes to monetize their personal brand, allowing endorsements, sponsorships, and engagement in the commercial world. This financial independence can positively impact their lives during and after their collegiate sports careers.

– Monetizing skills: These athletes can now earn money with their game skills and their persona. Which lays the foundation for a stable future while still hitting those courts and fields in college.


– Navigational challenges: Managing endorsements, balancing academic commitments with commercial responsibilities, and handling newfound financial opportunities can be overwhelming. Inexperience might lead to mismanagement or exploitation, impacting their on-field performance and overall college experience.

– Pressure and balance: Juggling responsibilities can be stressful. The pressure of managing endorsements alongside their academic and athletic commitments might affect their performance and mental well-being.

If there is one main takeaway here, it’s that the NIL compensation isn’t just a rulebook; it’s about changing the game. It’s giving athletes the keys to their success.

Consider Allan Guei, a talented basketball player who navigated NCAA restrictions before NIL compensation. Despite winning $40,000 in a free throw contest, NCAA rules limited his ability to retain it. Notably, Guei opted to distribute the prize among fellow competitors, emphasizing the value of his full scholarship at Cal State-Northridge.

It’s a statement that shows that not every college athlete feels exploited. But now, with NIL in play, these students are in the driver’s seat.

And NIL isn’t just about the players; it’s transforming the game behind the scenes too. Colleges are now using it as a trump card in recruiting. They’re offering student-athletes a chance to make bank on their image rights. It’s become a crucial part of wooing the best of the best into their teams.

NCAA's Adoption of NIL RulesNCAA’s Adoption of NIL Rules

The NCAA’s response to name, image, and likeness (NIL) compensation has hit the refresh button in college athletics. Their interim policy, effective immediately, opens doors for college athletes to benefit from their image and fame, and aren’t tied to state-specific NIL laws anymore.

The NCAA’s Division I Council embraced several proposals aimed at introducing regulations to manage and bring transparency to these transactions. They include setting up a space for NIL service providers to sign up voluntarily, having athletes disclose deals worth over $600 to their schools, and even working on a standard NIL contract. Moreover, education programs for high school prospects and college athletes are in the works, focusing on navigating NIL opportunities and responsibilities.

You see, it’s not just about following rules; it’s about giving these athletes a real voice and power.

The goal? To make NIL activities fair, transparent, and accountable for all college athletes. This isn’t just a step; it’s a giant leap toward simplifying the whole NIL scene, fitting NCAA rules into the changing world of college sports.

This comes at a time when the NCAA, since the summer of 2021, has been operating without specific rules governing NIL. The absence of detailed guidelines led to a patchwork of state laws dictating NIL’s use, creating inconsistency and transparency challenges.

Now, here’s the good part. There’s a collective effort to protect student-athletes amidst the dynamic NIL environment. It’s all about setting up guardrails against shady recruitment tactics and any shady “pay-to-play” scenarios. Athletes, schools, and the NCAA are working in sync to make things clear and stable that don’t compromise the soul of college sports.

However, this isn’t just about rules and penalties. It’s also about refining the infractions process, aiming to penalize individuals involved in rule violations rather than impacting entire programs. By expanding suspensions, establishing penalties for employing individuals with a “show-cause” order, and disassociating with boosters who violate rules, the focus is on growing cooperation among schools.

This shift isn’t just administrative; it’s a cultural move towards transparency and fairness. Making those involved in major violations and the creation of a public database of coaches with a history of infractions reinforce this drive for accountability and integrity within college sports.

Now, you’ve seen the critical role the Right of Publicity plays in athletes’ rights and the ever-evolving world of sports and digital entertainment. From Intellectual Property (IP) rights to the game-changing impact of NIL compensation, athletes are carving new paths toward fairness and empowerment in their careers and identities.

This ongoing conversation sparks endless possibilities and debates. And if you’re looking to require legal advice with your Right of Publicity, book a 15-minute courtesy call with Attorney Morin at +1 (404) 800-5568.

Disclaimer: Remember, this blog offers insights, not legal counsel. Seek personalized guidance from your attorney for your specific case-by-case situation.

Receive the latest news

Subscribe to Tidings Newsletter

Receive news, special events, and industry-related information periodically delivered to your inbox.