Football: Players fight for commercial rights

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The Independent Online
JUST three weeks before the World Cup, England's players are at loggerheads with the Football Association over commercial rights to the three lions crest, a dispute which may eventually end up in the courts.

While the England coach, Glenn Hoddle, was maintaining that only "a few minor details need to be ironed out" with regard to a package worth pounds 4m a year to the players, the FA's commercial director, Phil Carling, spoke yesterday of the threat of a major rift hanging over the country's build- up to the finals.

Some understanding was reached on Monday between the FA and Team England representatives, Alan Shearer, David Seaman and Tony Adams, about a four- year marketing deal involving 10 corporate backers, but the players are holding out for the right to endorse rival products to those represented by the major backers.

Both sides have taken legal advice with High Court action being threatened as a last resort. "That would be the worst-case scenario," Carling said. "We're hoping common sense will prevail because I don't think it benefits the FA or the players to have the Sword of Damocles hanging over us.

"We feel there is a question of morality here, and it would have an impact on the financial side of the package if the players are free to negotiate their own deals."

The FA is insisting that while the players are wearing England's three lions crest, they must not be seen advertising a rival brand to that of one of their major backers. They do not have a problem with a player pictured in his club shirt.

"Both sides have taken advice from counsel,"Carling said. "Our counsel said that they cannot sign individual contracts without our consent and their counsel says they can. At this stage, we've agreed to differ and our view is that it won't be a problem unless it becomes one."

Any action would be taken against the company in question rather than the actual player, alleging "incitement of a breach of contract".

Innocently, Hoddle had spoken at yesterday's press conference about off- the-field activities that could "upset the apple cart," presumably a reference to the late night excesses of Paul Gascoigne and seemed to be under the impression that the commercial dispute had been resolved. "I've had a chat with the players [Team England representatives Alan Shearer, David Seaman and Tony Adams] and everything is done and dusted. The players are happy."

There would be no more meetings, said Hoddle before the World Cup or during it. But it appears there will almost certainly be meetings soon after it. As for bonuses for World Cup success, there has been agreement. Should England carry off the trophy, the players will share in a pounds 1m jackpot. Proudly, Hoddle revealed that no players had approached him during the qualifying stages to ask about bonuses.

Much to the chagrin of the kit manufacturers, Umbro, the commercial row overshadowed its pounds 50m five-year sponsorship deal with the FA. Every team from England seniors down to the schoolboys, as well as the women, will wear their strip which will be modified every two years. Of that sum, pounds 20m will be ploughed back into youth development. Umbro fought off competition from Nike and Puma to conclude the deal.

Littlewoods, however, will not be renewing their four-year sponsorship of the FA Cup and Charity Shield.