Can a celebrity endorsement run afoul of league rules?
Fantasy sports are played by many Florida residents, from casual players with only pride on the line to more serious contestants entering high stakes games. With many of these games now available online, the business of operating fantasy sports has grown. Like any other business interested in generating revenue, many may be considering whether to seek a celebrity endorsement deal to promote their offering and drive up business.
Such was the case with fantasy sports website Fantasy Aces, which in May announced a partnership with Pablo Sandoval of the San Francisco Giants to promote one of its fantasy sports games. However, the announcement did not explain what Sandoval, the 2012 World Series MVP, will receive in the licensing agreement to use his likeness, although it did note that a significant part of the game’s profit would go to a charity supported by the player, the FBI National Child ID Program.
So far, so good, right? Well, not everything may end up rosy for Sandoval. Major League Baseball has a history of staunchly opposing active player involvement in any venture tied to gambling, including endorsing otherwise legal forms of gambling. In fact, two of the all-time greats, Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays, were given temporary bans for working with casinos during their playing careers. However, MLB has yet to take an official stance on fantasy baseball and its relationship to gambling, and even has an agreement itself with CBS for its fantasy games. Still, one high ranking official within MLB has gone on record stating his belief that daily fantasy sports games are essentially equal to flipping a coin, which he equates to gambling.
So far, MLB has not commented or ruled on Sandoval’s deal. If it were to rule it a violation, Sandoval could face a punishment that may leave many questioning whether the endorsement was a good idea. For this reason, athletes or entertainers seeking to optimize their merchandising & licensing reach much like Sandoval need to take care to understand all the possible advantages and disadvantages of a possible deal. In many cases, the potential repercussions may not be obvious at first, but working with experienced counsel can help those looking to enter an endorsement deal consider all angles and make the best decision possible.