Sports Law

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As part of our Gaming, IP and ICT Law practice group, Sports Law is a very vast and cross-sectional topic which is intertwined with several other sectors of law, particularly Gaming Law, Intellectual Property Law and ICT Law. Despite being a relatively newly established area of law in both Malta and Cyprus, the importance of sports law vis-a-vis other sectors of law is increasingly becoming a highly interesting and lucrative topic.

Sports Law and Intellectual Property

Whilst seemingly incongruent, IP law lies at the heart of vast commercial opportunities embedded in the world of sport for those who know how to seek them. Sports is no longer a mere entertainment activity but has flourished into a fully-fledged business industry with an increasingly important role in the world economy as a job creator, accounting for $300 billion plus on a worldwide economic scale. The industry also mobilises resources and invests in public infrastructure.

Walking into a pristine stadium with thousands of smiling fans calling out the names of famous sportsmen geared up in their specialised and branded gear, proudly bearing their favourite club’s branded jerseys, scarves and caps is proof of intellectual property at work.

From innovative new technology which paves the path to better sports equipment, to branding and character merchandising, various IP rights come into play in this profitable sector.

Patents are an integral part of sports law which drive innovators to come up with innovative and creative equipment which continues to take the world of sports to unprecedented levels of professionalism. Patents serve as an effective means for the protection of technology used in the making of sports equipment. Aesthetics also play a significant role, thus design rights which protect the signature look of sports equipment are also very important.  Trademarks and brands also confer a distinct identity to sporting events, teams and their gear, distinguishing them from other products which may be similar but of a lesser quality, thus protecting the reputability of the product, the company who makes it, and the sportsmen or club that endorse it. Copyright rights are ultimately what creates the revenue required for broadcasters to invest in the costly undertaking of broadcasting sports to enthusiasts all over the world. Therefore, IP rights are pivotal to the economic value of sports and stand as the basis to licensing, merchandising agreements, sponsorships, media and broadcasting  which generate the revenues required to support the development of the sports industry.

Famous sportsmen are increasingly protecting their image through the use of intellectual property rights. This also extends to popular catchphrases or poses associated with them. Additionally, it is very common for them to aslo promote goods featuring them and attributes related to them, or any type of goods bearing their name in the brand. For instance, US basketball star Michael Jordan’s “jumpman” pose and his Air Jordan brand shoes are registered trademarks. This type of merchandising is referred to as character merchandising and is becoming an increasingly lucrative activity in the sports law sector.

Gaming in Sports Law – eSport and Betting

Betting is a popular practice in both Malta and Cyprus. In August 2015, bet365 - Hillside (New Media Malta) Limited, a leading online gaming operator providing sports betting, casino and poker type games has chosen Malta as a licensing base and was awarded  a sports betting licence by the Malta Gaming Authority which serves to prove the strength of a Maltese licence’s reputability.

In 2012, Cyprus saw the enactment of the Betting Act (L.106(I)/2012) which regulates both land-based and online gambling. The latter had been widely unregulated prior to the enactment of this act which now requires gambling operators who wish to provide sports betting services to apply for a licence to the National Betting Authority. Online sports betting is the only legal form of online gambling in Cyprus as of right now.

Another highly interesting sector which merges gaming and sports is the budding eSports sector. eSport is a form of competition facilitated by electronic systems, mainly videogames which mostly take the form of organised multiplayer video game competitions between professional players. This form of sports is rapidly becoming famous throughout the world and has reached Maltese shores as well, with websites such as hosting eSports events both offline and online for a gaming community which is rapidly growing in size. With eSports on the rise, it is only natural that various legal issues will arise as a gaming hobby is turned into a serious business, with game publishers, sponsors and entrepreneurs seeking to invest in gamers who are taking on eSports as a profession and entering into binding contracts, and small start-up eSports teams who are willing to venture the business.

As of yet, eSports is still a widely unregulated topic, and this is an issue which can lead to various abuses in respect of essential topics such as ensuring that the contractual stability whereby the expectations, rights and obligations of each party are clearly defined, ensuring that players are paid, catering for disciplinary matters and stakeholder disputes, as well as doping and illegal betting.

ICT and Gaming in Sports Law

Fantasy Sports is a sector of online gaming where participants assemble imaginary or virtual teams of players of a professional sport which compete based on the statistical performance of the player’s players in actual games. This innovative form of gaming which blends sports and online gaming has been regulated in Malta as well, with a legal notice issued 1st August 2016 proclaiming that Malta fantasy sports games operators are exempt from obtaining a remote gaming license to be able to operate.

Our Sports Law Practice

As part of out Gaming, IP and ICT Practice Group, our dynamic team of lawyers and professionals is zealous about sports law. Our multi-faceted approach allows us to assist clients in all their needs related to sports law and offer them the most comprehensive solutions for their businesses, be it a fully-established company which wants to open a branch in Malta or Cyprus, or a budding-start up which wants to venture the world of sports law and the respective fields of Gaming, IP and ICT with which sports law is so often intertwined. As a firm of choice in these sectors, we are eager to help you set up your business and assist you with legal advice from the onset which will save you the trouble of entering into complex legal complications if something goes wrong. 

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Key Contacts

Dr Silvana Zammit

Partner, Global Property, Yachts & Aircraft

+356 22056423