The future of IP in football as a source of competitive advantage

· by World Football Summit

We are living through a transformational era in which the transition from web2 to web3 promises to open a wide array of revenue opportunities for football clubs, whether it’s through merchandise, sponsorship, or media rights. At the same time though, the need for sports properties to protect their intellectual properties is more crucial than ever.

The reality is though, there is still much misunderstanding and lack of knowledge around the topic, which is a risk for any business. To get more clarity on the matter, we invited Etienne Sanz de Acedo, CEO of the International Trademark Association, for an exclusive conversation with WFS Digest.

This was a true masterclass for any sports industry leader as he explains how intellectual property is going to evolve in Web3, what elements can and should be protected from an IP standpoint and how INTA is helping brands around the world adapt to this new playing field.

We also touch upon some of the most relevant topics for football properties from an IP perspective such as counterfeit merchandise items, piracy, and broadcasting and what the future of IP may look like.

As always, you can listen to the entire conversation and find a small sample of what we talked about just below that!


WFS: Are football properties working well on protecting their intellectual properties?

Etienne: I don’t think football clubs, or corporations in general, are paying sufficient attention to intellectual property and industrial property. And there is a huge potential in its value as an intangible asset.

This is revenue that they’re not generating because of that.

WFS: What elements, other than the most obvious ones like logos or visuals, can be protected from an IP perspective?

Etienne:  There are many of them. Trademarks, the brands themselves, you have the design, domain names, copyrights, and so on.

When we talk about the brand, the trademark, it can be the name of a football club, it can be the logo, it can be a kind of 3D element, which might be the stadium, it might be some merchandising that is being developed, all that is protectable and enforceable.

Then, the gestures of key players could be protected as well. So, there is a huge potential, a huge array of rights, that should be protected.

Etienne Sanz de Acedo World Football Summit

This is what football clubs need to understand, the same way you professionalize your finance or your marketing areas, you need to do the same with intellectual property. And even more nowadays, where everybody’s online, and, where the sports industry and the gaming industry are changing.


WFS: And all of this is bound to change with the rollout of web3 technology such as the Metaverse, correct?

Etienne:  The first thing to understand is there is not only one “Metaverse.” Now, if you look at the positioning companies are taking on the metaverses (in plural), it’s more from a marketing & communication perspective.

And then this brings back a more kind of traditional distribution mechanism. So yes, it has potential no doubt in terms of tickets, merchandising, or content, But then we can talk about NFTs in sports, and that’s a huge new business that needs a strategy behind it, that needs IP professionals to understand how that works.

My advice to any football club is you need to have an in-house IP professional and make sure that person is really participating in the strategic development of the club because there is a huge potential in it.

Now, the last point I would like to make when we talk about Metaverse, the blockchain, etc. is that 30 years ago when the web was in a phase of massive adoption, there was a huge appropriation of rights, what we call cybersquatting. Well, this will happen with the metaverse and web3 exactly the same way, and it will be more exponential. Again, you need someone to be able to understand, anticipate, strategize and protect the assets of the different teams.

Football clubs need to professionalize their IP departments the same way they do for finance or marketing.

WFS: How does the International Trademark Association help football clubs understand the future of IP?

Etienne:  This is an ongoing process and we are releasing reports across many different topics including some that may seem extravagant for the time being. For instance, we have a report on the future of intellectual property in outer space. Imagine the first football club that will decide to organize some kind of promotional campaign about a game on the moon, you need to start thinking about protecting that.

The starting point is really to help football clubs, understand the value of their intangible assets, and the way they can monetize those assets. We also help them understand how they need to structure that internally because you can always rely on an external counsel or on a specialized law firm, but you will need someone within your staff who will be able to define a strategy, interact with the business and help start positioning the company in those new platforms that are emerging.

Football is not played only in the stadiums anymore. It’s played in many different scenarios and you can monetize all of those. And there are many things that you can monetize, in a good way, for the benefit of the club. That’s something where we want to help and this is why we’re putting together a toolkit to try to explain, in simple words, the potential of that and how to maximise it.

The starting point is to understand the value of the intangibles and the way they can be monetized.

WFS: You are a fan of La Real Sociedad. If you had an unlimited budget and you could acquire any football player in history, who would it be?

Etienne:  You know what? First, I would like to retain somebody like Mikel Oyarzabal because he encompasses the values of the club.

Sometimes, you know, club values and what they represent are far more important than any player you might be able to bring. That has no price and you should always keep that.

That would be my major investment.

This interview is featured in the latest edition of WFS Digest, our insider’s guide to the latest and most relevant thoughts and practices from within the football industry. You can subscribe to WFS Digest HERE.