Moneyball: Understanding the licensing implications of the Neymar signing

With the women’s game currently dominating football talk, especially in England where the girls are following their cricketing counterparts in out-performing the blokes, it was always going to need an extraordinary headline to grab the focus back for the old footballing order. The news that Neymar is to leave Barcelona for PSG for a world-record fee of some £200 million has popped up to answer the call. 

When a major club invests this sort of money (plus wages) in a player you can bet they’ve considered all the revenue streams and business-building opportunities. For instance, with a high-profile star like Neymar, image rights are invariably licensed to the club as part of the deal securing the player. This means the club has many opportunities to earn revenue from the use of the image—these include advertising and endorsements using the team and groups of players, sponsor packages and media outlets. Pace the current challenges to Cristiano Ronaldo on this front, it’s a big deal.

While it’s difficult to predict the exact revenue figures for Neymar’s image rights, retail sales of licensed sports merchandising amounted to over $24bn worldwide last year. With football being the world’s most popular sport and Neymar one of its biggest—and now most expensive—stars, it is obvious that his brand will generate a fair amount of money. 

In the wider battle to develop the PSG brand internationally, and to boost overall sales of merchandise featuring the club and their players, there is a tendency for football fans in countries such as China, Taiwan and Thailand to be somewhat fickle—they switch allegiance from one club to another depending, mainly, on a team’s success on the field. This is radically different from the attitude of a UK or European football fan who sticks by his or her team with almost religious devotion. 

Being seen to be buying the best talent is one way to counter a lack of success that could lose the interest and involvement of fans overseas (domestically it works, too, of course). Spending a huge amount of money on a globally recognised star shows an intent to succeed and establish market power. Buying a PSG replica shirt may not have been top of mind among Asian football fans, but with the chance now to add Neymar’s name in the traditional spot on the shirt back, you have a whole new ball-game, so to speak. Short-term, big boost in merchandise sold and long-term, the club’s profile rises; good for general commerce but also in enabling them to attract the ‘next Neymar’ over the world’s other big soccer clubs and brands. Maybe not quite an open goal for the club’s commercial department, but definitely a pass into space for their star business staff. Don’t expect the Neymar story to be the last of its kind.

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