Round 3: GAA and the Law – Player Endorsements

27th February 2015

There is no simple way to describe how you approach the question of player endorsements in an amateur code.  We all know in professional sport that livelihoods are made from endorsements.

There is the marriage and Beckham and Adidas, McElroy and Nike and long ago, O’Driscoll and Powerade.

There has always been a fundamental clash of principals when it comes to talking about sponsorship of the GAA.  The amateur association has many commercial sponsorship contracts.  The amateur players, however, do not and regularly there is residence when players seek to endorse products on a commercial basis.

As far back as the early noughties, several high profile players gathered themselves together with a management agency to promote themselves and the supplement their amateur income.  This move by the Marlborough Group with the then players of the day; Peter Canavan, Jarlath Fallon, and so on, caused great difficulty within the association.

The history of player’s sponsorship, therefore, is fraught with difficulty.

This briefing does not, however, try to set out the history of that difficult relationship but rather how player’s sponsorship and endorsements come into contact with the law.

In simple terms, it is open to any private individual whether they are a sports person or not to enter a contract for any purpose.  If that contract involves the payment money for promoting a product or a service then the player must account for that as part of their income.  We see adverts on television now with Bernard Brogan promoting Supervalu.  It must be readily assumed that Mr Brogan is receiving money for this from Supervalu or their advertising agency.  The Law dictates that he must account for this in the form of additional income and pay his income tax on it.

That is the easy example to give.

You then move on to the question which affects many high profile inter-county players, such as free cars.  Regularly we see on social media high profile GAA Players taking possession of their new sponsored car and thanking their sponsor for its use.

Where such free services are provided, players also must account for that.  This is particularly the case where it is done in such a high profile way.

Any player in receipt of a service which is in receipt of monies or monies worth (such as a free car) must also account to the Revenue.

This benefit is considered to be a benefit in kind and the obligation is on the player to make sure that they account for it.  A free car is not necessarily a free car once all the dues are paid.

The next example concerns public appearances on a once off basis.  Sometimes there can be a business that is opening a new store or launching a new product.  A celebrity player sometimes appears and if so, they can be paid a fee for this service.  The law dictates that any such personal appearances which money is paid in also deemed to be income and must be accounted to the Revenue Commissioners as income.

The last and most innocent situation then relates to players wearing specific brands of clothing or boots.  In the professional game, millions of euro are paid to the likes of Messi and Rolando to endorse boots which has their names on them.  There is no such luxury in the amateur code of GAA.  However, there is precedent in the past where in the early noughties, as referred to earlier; PUMA became involved with a number of high profile players.  That seems to have been a once off and has not been replicated over the years.

In theory, however, any player receiving sports goods or wears which otherwise they would have to pay for constitutes benefit in kind also which they must report to the Revenue.

We have not yet got to the point of having formal endorsement contracts.  We have not yet seen high profile inter-county players appear on ads for Adidas or PUMA or Nike.  Given the way that the market is developing, however, it will not be very long before this happens.

The closest example that exists in the present day is the promotion of Lucozade Sports by certain high profile GAA Players.  This area of promotion is only in its infancy.

As the market develops, it is quite likely that players will be approached by manufactures of sports goods or products with a view to endorsing or sponsoring their particular product over another.

If that does happen, then it will take the form of legal contracts which will have to be negotiated and it is always important that proper advice be taken by any player who finds himself in that situation.

If you have found yourself in this situation or need advice, then at any stage we will be happy to assist based on our experiences so far.