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05 Jul 2021
BY Gerard du Toit

It’s the Euros, so let’s talk… trade marks

The magazine World Trademark Review (“WTR”) has published some interesting data about football trade marks. Given that we’re all watching the Euros, this might be a good time to discuss some of the links between trade marks and football.

Football clubs have significant trade mark portfolios

The club that arguably takes trade marks most seriously is Manchester United, with a trade mark portfolio of 586 marks. Next comes Barcelona with 440. No surprise there: two of the biggest clubs in world football also happen to have the biggest trade mark portfolios.

Manchester United and Barcelona are followed by a host of big-name clubs:

  • Chelsea: 396 marks
  • Real Madrid: 368
  • Tottenham: 272
  • Arsenal: 244
  • Juventus: 213
  • Paris St Germain: 201
  • Liverpool: 158
  • AC Milan: 157
  • Bayern Munich: 121
  • Benfica: 118

What’s interesting is that there has been significant growth in trade mark portfolios of late, even during the pandemic. So, for example, Chelsea grew its trade mark portfolio by some 20% (68 new filings) over the past 12 months, Liverpool filed 25 new applications, and even humble Crystal Palace filed 13 applications, in the process growing its portfolio by 1/3. Manchester United’s trade mark portfolio has grown three-fold since 2016.

What does this all mean? Well, on a general level, it suggests an increased understanding of the value of brands, and the way in which they can act as revenue generators through the magic of trade mark licensing. As for pandemic-era growth, this might suggest that football clubs (who are obviously experiencing worrying drops in income) are viewing trade mark licensing as an increasingly important substitute for ticket revenue.

Football club brands are very valuable

According to the company Brand Finance, the world’s most valuable football brands are as follows: Real Madrid (EUR1.28-billion), Barcelona (EUR1.27-billion), Manchester United (EUR1.13-billion), Manchester City (EUR1.12-billion) and Bayern Munich (EUR1.01 billion).

Yet, brand values can drop very quickly

Football club brand values have taken a hit. For two reasons:

  • The breakaway European Super League (“ESL”)

It seems long ago already, but it was just the other day when we had all that silly breakaway nonsense, with 12 top teams threatening to form the ESL, a competition that was reserved for themselves. The clubs very quickly abandoned this idea when it became clear that the fans weren’t having it.

The company Brand Finance has concluded that the breakaway project alone decreased the total brand value of the 12 clubs by some EUR600-million, and significantly damaged their brand strength. The TMR report says that, as a result of the fiasco, Liverpool lost a sponsorship of an unspecified amount with Tribus Watches, whereas Manchester United lost a GBP200-million deal with The Hut Group.

  • The pandemic

Unlike the ESL this is, of course, still very much with us. COVID-19 has resulted in empty stadiums, and therefore significantly less income for clubs. The Euros were, of course, themselves postponed from 2020. Brand Finance estimates that the brand values of the world’s 50 biggest football clubs fell by some 11.2% as a result of COVID-19 and the resultant lack of supporters at matches.

Sponsorship is vital

It’s interesting to note just how big some football sponsorship deals are. Real Madrid’s deal with Emirates is worth USD82.5-million per year, whereas the deal between Tottenham Hotspurs and AIA is worth some USD50-million per year. Without sponsorship, football would be very different from what it is now.

Players have significant trade mark portfolios too

Lionel Messi has the biggest of them all (some 115 in total), and some may think that’s only right. The Argentinian whiz is followed by Neymar, Ronaldo, Paul Pogba, Leroy Sane, Gareth Bale, Kylian Mbappe, Sadio Mane, Marcus Rashford and Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Yet some superstars like Kevin de Bruyne, Mo Salah, Bruno Fernandes, Jadon Sancho and Erling Haaland have no trade mark registrations at all – the latter two can possibly be excused because of their youth.

Players will fight for their trade marks

There was the famous case of Massi v Messi. A man called Massi had a registration for his name covering sports clothing and equipment and he opposed an application that Messi filed to register his name for the same goods. The footballer suffered an early setback but he took his case up to the EU General Court, which ruled along the lines of… well, let’s not be silly shall we, everyone knows who Lionel Messi is, so no-one is going to think that goods branded Messi are in some way linked with Massi or whatever his name is, so can we all go home now.


We’d really like to talk more about all the wonderful things that sports teams and sportsmen/women can and should do with their valuable brands but…the next game is just about to start!

*The trade mark statistics below were compiled by WTR on the basis of TMView data, and may not include all relevant trade mark records worldwide.


Reviewed by Ilse du Plessis, an Executive in ENSafrica’s IP department.

Gerard du Toit

IP | Trade Mark Attorney | Senior Associate

+27 82 885 3337