Lessons of ‘Le Sulk’ — Nicolas Anelka, scandals and sponsorship agreements

By Rob Cruise

Following Zoopla’s decision to end its sponsorship of West Bromwich Albion as a result of Nicolas Anelka’s ‘quenelle’ goal celebration, we explore how sponsors can protect themselves against the bad behaviour of their athletes.

There is no doubt that companies and brands can increase their profile and goodwill dramatically and therefore up their profits by entering into sponsorship agreements with sporting and entertainment personalities, teams, competitions and events. Football star and fashion icon David Beckham provides the most obvious example of a sponsor’s dream, with his numerous endorsements of products including ‘Breitling for Bentley’, Police sunglasses and H&M underwear.

However, the potential pitfalls that accompany sponsorship contracts have again been highlighted by footballer Nicolas Anelka’s decision to make the controversial ‘quenelle’ gesture after scoring in a Premier League match against West Ham, and property website Zoopla’s subsequent announcement that it will be ending its sponsorship of Anelka’s club West Bromwich Albion at the end of this season. Anelka, branded ‘Le Sulk’ by some after forcing a move from Arsenal to Real Madrid at the end of the 1990s, is not the only sports person whose actions have prompted swift action from a sponsor. In recent times, Tiger Woods, Lance Armstrong, Michael Phelps, Martina Hingis and others have all put their sponsors in difficult positions. So how can sponsors obtain legal protection before entering into mouthwatering but potentially hazardous endorsement deals? Aside from the obvious need to conduct detailed due diligence regarding the historical and current conduct, visibility and chances of success of the relevant team and/or player, we have set out a few tips regarding the drafting of sponsorship agreements below…

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