SBJ/September 24-30, 2012/Opinion

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  • Points to ponder before launching another women’s league

    There was a small obituary in sports sections on May 19, 2012, announcing the final kick of Women’s Professional Soccer. The league had canceled the 2012 season in January, hoping to return in 2013. The season was scrapped amid a nasty lawsuit between the owner of the South Florida franchise and WPS officials.

    The Women’s United Soccer Association also failed, lasting only three seasons and burning through a mountain of cash after the euphoria of the U.S. victory at the 1999 World Cup.

    Ever since Brandi Chastain made sports bras a multimillion-dollar business with her shot heard round the globe at the heart-pounding conclusion of the 1999 Women’s World Cup, we have seen optimism turn into apathy for a women’s pro soccer league in America.

    Once again, the momentum of the U.S. women’s gold-medal win at the London Olympics has fans hearing that a new U.S. women’s league will begin play in the spring of 2013. The yet-to-be-named league could consist of up to eight teams, including three former WPS teams (Boston Breakers, Chicago Red Stars and New Jersey’s Sky Blue FC) along with many of the top U.S. national team players.

     
    The 1999 World Cup title launched one women’s soccer league. Will London’s gold spawn another?
    Photo by: GETTY IMAGES (2)
    Before launching another league, perhaps we should examine why a women’s pro soccer league has not succeeded.

    Soccer in the U.S. is an event-driven sport: Whether it is Brandi’s bra or Hope Solo “Dancing with Stars,” it’s just another ho-hum matchup if no stars are playing to jack up the attendance. If the mega-stars of the 1999 World Cup championship team could have been cloned, it would have made a difference. The Soccer Supremes — aka Brandi (Chastain), Mia (Hamm), Julie (Foudy), and Michelle (Akers) — were attendance magnets. The same situation will present itself if the Ladies of London — Alex Morgan, Hope Solo, Megan Rapinoe and Abby Wambach — join the new league. The league will be challenged to create the hype needed to sell tickets.

    Success does not breed success: The success of the national team in the Olympics or World Cup isn’t enough to sustain a professional league over the long term.

    Soccer OD: Ask any soccer mom, dad, sister, brother or player about going to another soccer game after having played four games of their own during the weekend, and you might elicit a less-than-enthusiastic response.

    Players don’t become season-ticket holders: Just because you play the game doesn’t mean that when you grow up you are going to invest time and money on your favorite childhood sport.

    Why no significant MLS co-promotion?: The Major League Soccer model is working well with soccer-specific stadiums and growing fan affinity. Why isn’t big brother helping out his soccer sister with a major marketing push?

    Lack of a consistent and significant TV partner: At various times, the WUSA and WPS were televised on TNT, CSN, Fox Soccer Channel, Fox Sports en Español, CNNSI, ESPN2, PAX TV and a variety of local and regional sports channels.

    Competition: The NBA, WNBA, NCAA, MLB, NFL, NHL and MLS make it difficult to capture a shrinking spectator-sport dollar from fans.

    Moolah and patience: It has taken the men’s game 50 years and hundreds of millions of dollars of investment to gain a foothold in this country. The WNBA is still trying to figure out the equation that will put it on solid financial footing. As women’s soccer continues to grow in the United States, it is estimated that of the 18 million soccer-playing Americans, close to 8 million are women. Those numbers could hook entrepreneurs in continued attempts to make a women’s pro soccer league work.

    The development of women’s professional soccer in America is similar to hitting the wall in a marathon. One of these days, women’s pro soccer will succeed, but not without a few more walls.

    Andy Dolich (andy.dolich@gmail.com) has held executive positions at the San Francisco 49ers, Oakland A’s, Golden State Warriors, Memphis Grizzlies, Philadelphia 76ers and at the NASL’s Washington Diplomats during his 40-year career in sports.

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  • Cartoon: Here we go again

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  • Own that ink: Tattoo copyrights matter for athletes, sponsors

    Professional athletes often identify life challenges or startling events in their lives through artistic imagery on their bodies. The names and likenesses of family members or friends are often featured in tattoos. Others display the unique talents of the artist whose work is embodied in a particular tattoo. Like a writer who copyrights his stories, or a musician who protects his compositions, a tattoo artist might also take action to protect his work.

    We have seen and will continue to see lawsuits arise and that inspire tattoo artists to bring about creative theories of copyright infringement against professional athletes who appear in advertisements. At a minimum, professional athletes need to tackle and meet head-on many copyright issues if they wish to avoid costly legal action associated with tattoos.

    Conventional wisdom and custom suggests that both the professional athlete and tattoo artist discuss ideas, designs and the eventual artwork prior to the transfer of the artwork to the skin. However, U.S. copyright law denotes that ownership of artwork must be assigned, licensed or written into contract via transferring ownership and there must not be any copying, reproducing, or distributing or publicly displaying copyrighted work without the tattoo artist’s consent.

    In the event ownership is not properly transferred, a tattoo artist may file a claim alleging copyright infringement and seek profits, a share of the revenue associated with an advertisement, or an injunction seeking to stop the use of the tattoo in the accused advertisement.

    Companies often sign professional athletes to lucrative endorsement contracts for the sole purpose of the athlete delivering brand awareness and consumers assimilating the product with the athlete. As social media continues to explode, advertising budgets are growing and companies are seeking out athletes to market their products. Shoes and various forms of apparel are prime examples of the product tied to the athlete; thus consumers see the athlete and the company as one. The same rule applies to tattoo artist ownership and athletes tied to marketing a product. However, at times, history suggests that rights are not appropriately transferred from the tattoo artist to the individual prior to the marketing campaign surrounding the athlete, resulting in a potential costly litigation.

    A tattoo artist’s lawsuit against Rasheed Wallace (above) is a reminder to all athletes who have visible artistic imagery on their bodies of the importance of design ownership and copyright protection.
    Photo by: GETTY IMAGES (3)
    Former NBA player Rasheed Wallace saw firsthand when tattoo ownership is not properly transferred from the tattoo artist to the individual prior to the launch of a marketing campaign. In Matthew Reed v. Nike Inc., Wallace and Reed met to discuss a tattoo incorporating an Egyptian-themed family design on Wallace’s right arm. However, before inking the tattoo, Reed failed to transfer ownership of the artwork or rights in the tattoo design to Wallace.
    Wallace was then highlighted by Nike in an advertising campaign, along with the tattoo designed by Reed. Upon seeing the commercial advertisement portraying his artwork, Reed filed an application to register copyrights relating to the tattoo and filed a complaint in U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon against Nike and Wallace alleging copyright infringement. The case was dismissed pursuant to a confidential settlement agreement, but this example highlights the possibility of legal action associated with the lack of transferring ownership and companies promoting athletes without concrete consent from all possible parties involved.

    So what exactly can be done so that professional athletes are protected when promoting a product in a marketing or advertising campaign and have visible artistic imagery on their bodies?

    First, there needs to be a written contract in place stating that ownership was properly transferred or assigned from the artist to the individual, to eliminate risk associated with copyright infringement. Second, in the event that the tattoo happened months or even years ago without a valid transfer of ownership, check with the U.S. Copyright Office for any registrations naming the tattoo artist or business where the tattoo artist works to see whether a transfer of ownership can be obtained. Finally, upon receiving transfer of ownership of the tattoo, the work of art should be registered with the Copyright Office to receive the copyright certificate of registration.

    Steven Olenick (steven.olenick@snrdenton.com) is a lawyer, educator and an expert on various sports law issues.


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  • Sabol’s vision will endure

    The NFL is the product that it is today because, when we think of a great play, we remember not only what we saw, but what we heard — the collision of helmets and pads, the grunts, the screams of a coach from the sideline.

    Steve Sabol, the creative force behind NFL Films, saw pro football as none had seen it before. His vision — a football spiraling slowly into a receiver’s hands, set to a musical score, and at times even a poem — became America’s vision of what would become its most popular sport. His work chronicled the game with both drama and humor.

    Sabol died on Sept. 18 in Moorestown, N.J. He was 69.

    Sabol’s death came 18 months after he was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor. Though frustrated by symptoms that sometimes made it difficult to converse, he continued to work, overseeing films created by the producers, directors and editors who he hired and mentored.

    When we named him to our Champions class of 2012 in March, he consented to two days of interviews, which he sat through with courage, grace and good humor. He wanted to talk about his company, and especially its people. And they wanted to talk about him.

    Sabol spoke of their talent, their dedication and their loyalty. They spoke of his creativity, his spirit and his leadership. All spoke of their bond.

    Steve Sabol was NFL Films. As long as it remains, so shall he.

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