The Intersection of IPR and Sports: Commercialisation of Sports

Written by Jalaj Agarwal

Senior Editor at Law & Order

Fifth Year, B.A. LLB. Symbiosis Law School, Pune.

Disclaimer: Please note that the views expressed below represent the opinions of the article's author. The following does not necessarily represent the views of Law & Order.


The horizon of sports has flourished in many fold ways in the past years. It is no longer limited to being a mere recreational activity, instead it has developed into a proper industry. Development of sports today is not just a result of enhanced player performances, competition and popularity but rather more due to the commercialisation of sport and the main reason for this commercialisation has been the intersection of sports and Intellectual Property Rights. Intellectual Property Rights have paved the way for innovation; building brand value, consumer loyalty and popularity, revenue generation, among other things in the sports sector. This article highlights the role of Intellectual Property in the commercialisation of sports which has ultimately propelled the growth of sports in general. It analyzes the different types of IP rights and their utility in the sports industries. It concludes with the importance of Intellectual Property Rights in the growth of the sports industry and the need for protecting these rights for continuous growth.

Keywords: Sports, Intellectual Property, Commercialization, Trademark, Copyrights.


Sports have been an internal part of human life from ancient times. From being a leisure activity to a source of social interaction and bonding, sports have played an essential role in the evolution of humans. Advancement in today's world has been possible owing to the use of and protection offered by Intellectual Property Rights (IPR). IP protection is vital in encouraging and nurturing innovation and creativity, which are the driving factors for growth in any field. These rights promote creativity and growth in virtually every aspect of human life and sports is no exception.

As a result of their intersection with Sports, today, playing or watching sports is not just regarded as a mere source of entertainment but has developed into one of the largest growing industries.

The sporting events and stadiums are filled with brand names, logos, advertisements, banners, team logos etc. all protected by IP rights and help in growing brand value and goodwill.

With the growing commercial aspect of sports, Intellectual property rights vested in every component of the sports are rapidly being utilised and capitalised. These are used for a variety of purposes such as marketing, branding of sporting events, sports, teams-clubs, sportsmen celebrity status etc. for creation, sustenance and popularization of distinctive marks, logos and personalities.[1]

With the growing popularity and competitiveness in sports, there is a strong need to protect the team and individual interests through IPR to prevent others from riding on their brand value and goodwill. All forms of IPR, such as trademarks, copyright, patents, design, etc. form an essential part of the sports industry today and needs to be carefully protected.

Commercialization of Sports

The commercialisation of sports has been one of the most fruitful avenues which have contributed immensely towards individual gains and economic growth of countries. Intellectual Property rights have strengthened the business in sports as people across the globe have generated revenues by exploiting various facets of Intellectual property rights in sports.

Today, sports are a multi-billion global industry,[2] which provides for significant investments in infrastructure facilities and equipment, employs millions of people globally, is a platform for brand endorsements and provides entertainment globally.

Most of the popular sports such as football, tennis, cricket, baseball etc. have evolved to become major international events. To maximize their profits, most of these sports have introduced highly profitable and popular domestic leagues, such as the Indian Premier League for cricket in India, English Premier League for football in the United Kingdom, La Liga for football in Spain, the Major League Baseball for baseball in America, etc. The organisers of these leagues have been able to realise enormous economic rewards and benefits by capitalising on intellectual property rights available through aggressive marketing, broadcasting and promoting various other marketable options. As a result of this, major sporting events such as Olympics, FIFA World Cup, Cricket World Cup, Wimbledon etc. can be seen as a hub of Intellectual Property, brand valuation and commercialisation.

Role of Intellectual Property Rights

Today the role of IP rights is omnipresent in sports. These rights are vested in various segments of the sporting industry. Different types of IP promote the growth in different facets of the sports industries.

While patents drive innovation and technological advancement in sporting equipment, trademarks protect the brand value and build individual identities. Designs spur growth in the aesthetic aspect of sports while copyright concurrently generates broadcasting revenues by inter alia granting exclusive broadcasting rights.

All of the above aspects of intellectual property are used to protect assets, generate value, and stimulate growth in the sports sector.

Trademarks - Trademarks play a significant role in developing brand value, interest and popularity in sports. By utilising features like logos, slogans, captions and team names, commercial value is generated in sports teams, their players and their merchandise. These logos and team names are used for various merchandise products like sportswear, mugs, sporting equipment and gears etc. These features thus help in fostering public relations and fan following, thereby increasing their popularity. Trademarks help in building consumer loyalty and also develop allegiance with reputed sports brands. Trademarks play a vital role in advertisements and generating sponsorship for the teams. Even the names of sportspersons over time acquire the status of brand names due to their high popularity and celebrity status, which helps in garnering monitory and popularity benefits for everyone including the player, teams and the sport itself. For example, Usain Bolt's "Lightning Bolt" and his slogan "to di world" and Michael Jordan's "Jumpman pose" are registered trademarks.[3]

Copyright Related rights – Copyrights are vested in various components of sports and sporting events. It is present through the artistic work in the team logos, trademarks, slogans, images of players or the official mascots of sporting events etc. Copyright plays an important role in the broadcasting and telecasting of sports. Monetary benefits from broadcasting and media rights are the primary source of income for authorities to host and promote sporting events, develop the necessary infrastructure and constantly engage the public in sports. For example the broadcasting rights for a period of five years starting from 2018 of the Indian Premier League (IPL) were bought by Star India for a whooping sum of ₹16,347.5 crores ($ 2.55 billion).[4] Today, all the major sporting events are streamed and broadcasted everywhere around the world which helps in connecting millions of fans across the globe. Even the post/pre-match presentations, software of online games, etc. are copyright subject matters.[5]

Patents – Patents are one of the most important tools for fostering innovation and new developments in the sports sector. Any change in sports gear or equipment directly benefits the related industries. Development in existing equipment or the use of new technologies helps in enhancing the player's performance. These innovations may support the sportspersons to run faster, jump higher, hit the ball more neatly, prevent them from sustaining injuries, recover faster and so on. Fitness training methods and equipment have seen significant developments over the years owing to protection provided by patent laws. There is immense scope in the sports sector for innovation and creativity as the games are continuously evolving and the ever-growing competitiveness among players. Patents are not only limited to final products but are also provided for the process for achieving results.

Industrial Designs – Industrial design plays an integral part in promoting and protecting the aesthetics in sports. It is an intellectual property that protects the visual appeal or visual design of a product from being used by a third party. Organizations invest a large amount of resources in developing product and equipment design according to consumers’ tastes and preferences to enhance their product value and brand image. These designs help in making the product visually attractive and desirable by the users. Sports provide a huge scope for the design industry, such as in the trophies of sporting events, team jerseys and merchandises, sporting equipment, and gears such as shoes, bat, studs, rackets etc. Industrial designs also help in creating a separate identity for the game, a team or any particular player by reflecting their traits in a specific way visually.

Trade secrets –Trade secret refers to crucial information not accessible by the public, which enables the individual or organisation to stay ahead in the competition.[6] Trade secret underpins the sports sector as it allows the player, team, or sports manufacturers to stay ahead of their competitors. It consists of industrial secrets, manufacturing secrets, specific processes, methods or techniques which are specific to a particular individual or organisation and which are their main utility point. Teams and organisations develop various crucial information to gain an edge over their competitors such as statistical information, dietary and nutritious assessments, psychological and physiological data related to players and even specific rehabilitative techniques for particular sports and injuries. Sports gear and equipment are continuously modified to enhance a player's performance by companies using new and specific technology and materials which are kept as trade secrets to enhance their profitability.

Licensing and Franchising- One of the primary sources of revenue generation in the sports industry is through licensing and franchising. It includes the exclusive right to sell merchandise and products associated with the specific teams, organisations, sponsors etc. Licensing is a commercially productive option for brand owners which not only helps in revenue generation but also helps in developing brand value. Through licensing and franchising, teams or organisations give the specific right to use their brand name, trademarks, player names etc. on their products in return of license fees or royalties.


Intellectual property rights have provided the right impetus for the growth and development of sports across the world. These rights are thus considered as highly valuable assets even in the sports sector. Today, no sporting events or teams are complete without the use of the associated IP rights. As such, all teams and organisations are vigorously creating and protecting these rights leading to the commercialisation of sports. Intellectual property plays a fundamental role in the value creation of any brand or entity, inspiring advancement in every related field. Commercialisation of sports by IP leads to a symbiosis of development in several sectors and has reinforcing effects on the overall development of sports. Sports are one of the most popular and common facets of the human world and all corporations are willing to tap on this opportunity today.

By developing and protecting new technologies, brand value, exclusivity, team loyalty and popularity, commercial value and goodwill IP rights have not only generated revenues for teams, players, and related organisations but also attracted other industries to collaborate or combine with the sports sector.

Thus, the success of any one individual, team or any sport leads to various opportunities and growth of other related actors. This provides great incentives for the growth and development of sports today.

In conclusion, it can be said that intellectual property rights play a huge part in the sports industry, which further results in advancements and growth of sports on the field. Thus, in order to ensure continuous growth in every sphere of the sports sector, it is of utmost importance that these intellectual property rights are strongly protected.

[1] WIPO, Sports and Intellectual Property, [2] BUSINESS WIRE, "The Sports Global Market Opportunities And Strategies To 2022" [3] Mondaq, "IP on the field", [4] The Hindu, "Star India wins IPL broadcast and media rights for five years" [5] King & Wood Mallesons, Copyright-related Rights in Sports, [6] WIPO Magazine 2017, "Trade Secrets: the hidden IP rights" BIBLIOGRAPHY

Articles referred:

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  2. Kalamadi, S.. (2012). Intellectual property and the business of sports management. Journal of Intellectual Property Rights. 17. 437-442.

  3. P Kandiah, Sports and Intellectual Property,

  4. Batra, Aakash. (2020). Intellectual Property Rights And Commercialization Of Sports- Scope, Practice And Advancements - Legalpedia Journal, VOL. 2 Issue 2, ISSN No. 2581-7949.

  5. International Intellectual Property Institute, Intellectual Property and Sporting Events: Effective Protection of Event Symbols through Law and Practice,

  6. Nishant Kewalaramti, Character merchandising, Journal of Intellectual Property Rights,\

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