Recent increases in the use of social media and other sponsorship platforms have meant that sports professionals are more eager than ever to maximise their earning potential in what can often be a short-lived career. On the back of such advances in technology, leading to the increased exposure of sports professionals, the sporting industry has witnessed an increase in the number of disputes between sportspeople and their agents.
These disputes will commonly involve breaches by the agent of duties contained in either common law or statutory principles. Agents are also governed by the standards set out by the regulatory and governing bodies of the variety of sports in which they operate.
An agent (individual) or agency (organisation) will typically act on behalf of a sportsperson in the negotiation of a playing or competing contract as well as other supporting commercial ventures and sponsorship deals. We have also seen a recent cultural increase in the reliance of sportspeople upon their agents in terms of general everyday tasks and management of personal affairs. A sports agent will now also often provide legal, taxation and general financial advice to the athlete.
An agent will often either be paid a percentage of the amount the sportsperson earns (commission) or they will receive an annual fee. The recent increases in revenue generated from within some sports, such as football, has led to an increased scrutiny of the activities of sports agents in such sectors, in addition to detailed investigations into their earnings which can often seem somewhat extortionate.
It is a well established principle under common law that an agent owes a fiduciary duty to the sportsman or sportswoman they are representing. This includes a requirement for the agent to act in good faith and in the best interests of his or her client at all times. Such common law duties are not necessarily dependent upon the existence of an express contractual relationship but rather are based upon a relationship of trust.
As detailed above, the common law standards exist in addition to any standards set out by respective sporting regulators and governing bodies. Sporting regulators and governing bodies will be more than willing to look into any untoward actions of agents in terms of their behaviour and dealings. Sporting regulators will generally provide a forum of their own for hearing any disputes between sportspeople and agents. Such disputes are commonly dealt with under arbitrary proceedings. Litigation involving lawyers will often be seen as a last resort due to its inherent draconian nature and the financial implications that such legal action can often entail.
There is no set statutory instrument governing the relationship between sportspeople and their agents as is, for example, the case in the United States under SPARTA – The Sports Agent Responsibility and Trust Act 2004. The statutory rules and regulations governing such relationships in the UK are, however, taken from a number of separate statutes to include The Bribery Act 2010 which would prevent an agent from making a bung (unauthorised bribe or gift) and The Employment Agencies Act 1973 which prevents the offering of a financial benefit or a benefit in kind in relation to the use of an agent’s services.
Here at Farleys we have a dedicated Sports Law Department who have a wealth of experience in relation to such matters. We have recently acted on behalf of clients ranging from Premier League Footballers to Olympic Gold Medallists in relation to such agency disputes. Please do not hesitate to contact us today to speak with one of our specialist solicitors in order to discuss the grounds for making or defending a claim of this nature.