Sports Gazette

by sports journalism students at St Mary's University, London

Athletes and Ownership: Is the Talent Taking Back Control?

Posted on 17 December 2020 by Dami Adewale

Athletes and entertainers owning – and not owning – the rights to their names and images has been a hot topic lately.

In August 2020, NBA player JJ Redick of the New Orleans Pelicans changed the name of his podcast from The JJ Redick Podcast to The Old Man and the Three.

Changing the name was involuntary, as Redick did not own the rights to the old name of his podcast.

The irony in this, is that a 14-year NBA veteran, who has amassed an estimated $116m in career earnings, does not have the rights to his own name in the podcast space.

To understand why something that happened in August is relevant in December, a timeline is required.

The Story So Far

Redick started the podcast in 2015, named after himself. In 2017, he signed a deal with The Ringer’s podcast network.

When he left in August 2020, Redick also started his own production company ThreeFourTwo Productions with his podcast co-host Tommy Alter.

ThreeFourTwo Productions is the new platform that hosts Redick’s podcast. However, the name change was required because the name The JJ Redick Podcast is owned by The Ringer.

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December 2020 saw The Ringer give one of its most popular NBA shows The Mismatch its own podcast feed in place of the departing JJ Redick podcast.

Redick’s last podcast with The Ringer was in July 2020, so as of now, The JJ Redick Podcast is an unclaimed asset. But the only party that has the power to change this is The Ringer, not JJ Redick.

What Do You Truly Control?

In December 2020, Under Armour announced a partnership with NBA superstar Stephen Curry to create his own Curry Brand.

LeBron James also revealed that he shelved plans to start his own “Team LeBron” brand, with bookies’ NBA MVP favourite Luka Dončić as the first proposed signee.

Both of these moves were aimed at competing with Michael Jordan’s Air Jordan brand.

Under Armour would like to establish Curry as the face of their brand, like Nike did with Jordan. LeBron James would like to surpass Michael Jordan as the universally recognised best player of all time, on and off the court.

However, the pinnacle that Curry and James are chasing provides another example of an athlete who does not rights to his own name.

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The Jordan brand started as an extension of Nike in 1984 and became so popular that Nike allowed it to become its own brand in 1997.

Yet, Michael Jordan does not control the Jordan brand – Nike do, and Michael Jordan gets a percentage of the revenue.

Jordan is a higher profile case than Redick. He is the consensus pick for greatest basketball player ever, he is the majority owner of the Charlotte Hornets in the NBA, and is worth $1.6 billion as of December 2020.

There are two ways to look at this: firstly, Nike has provided the platform for the Jordan brand to be as successful as it is today. However, without the restrictions of the Nike deal, Michael Jordan would be able to enjoy the full benefits that come with the Jordan brand.

The Talent Takes Back Control

The issues that come with athlete ownership reach across the whole entertainment industry.

Media mogul Scooter Braun’s Ithaca Holdings LLC bought Big Machine Label Group (BMLG) for $300 million in June 2019.

Big Machine Label Group was singer Taylor Swift’s first record label and owned the rights to her first six albums, which made up a reported 80% of the label’s revenue.

In November 2020, Braun sold the masters for Swift’s first six albums to an unknown buyer for a price that could be up to $450 million. Just as Redick was powerless to retain the name of his podcast, Swift was powerless in these dealings and did not benefit from them.

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Yet, Swift has found a way to take back control. November 2020 saw her gain the right to re-record her first six albums, so she could earn revenue and royalty money from her music again.

This would render the BMLG albums useless as Swift’s fans would listen to her versions instead.

Swift usually releases an album every two years, but across 2019 and 2020 she has already released three albums in an attempt to rebuild her catalogue.

Hope on the Horizon

A lot of the time, the talent views signing to large corporations as a life changing opportunity.

Taylor Swift and LeBron James signed to BMLG and Nike respectively when they were both teenagers.

James took $28 million less to sign with Nike than with a competitor but could end up making a lot more, whereas Swift took a setback from her dealings with BMLG but has found a way to rebound, with two albums on the top ten year-end charts.

On the surface, Redick not having the rights to use his own name for his podcast may seem disheartening, but he can find comfort in the ways other stars have found ways to take back control.

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