soccer field

Danish football commercial rights dispute

October 02, 2018

Having reached the last 16 of the World Cup in Russia this summer, many would argue that Denmark over-achieved before losing on penalties to eventual runners-up Croatia. Off the field, however, the past year has not been without its controversies for Danish football.

In October 2017, Denmark’s national women’s team boycotted a World Cup qualifier against Sweden due to a dispute over employment conditions. In this instance, Sweden were awarded a 3-0 win and the Danish Football Association (the DBU) was fined. The DBU was also warned that Denmark could be barred from UEFA tournaments if it cancelled another match within the next four years.

In recent months, the DBU and its players have been embroiled in another dispute, which is understood to revolve around the match fees and commercial rights of the Danish footballers when playing for the national men’s team. The disagreement concerns the control of individual commercial rights and the extent to which they can be marketed to generate income for the DBU. The previous agreement between the DBU and the Danish Players’ Union expired after the World Cup and, as of yet, no new deal has been reached.

This follows the Australian cricket pay dispute last year, when its governing body, Cricket Australia, attempted to alter the players’ entitlements to revenues. This dispute threatened to derail the Ashes series before it was resolved in August 2017 and, together with the Danish commercial rights dispute, reflects a growing trend of professional sports players’ increased bargaining power in such situations.

Premier League stars such as Christian Eriksen, Kasper Schmeichel and Andreas Christensen are all members of the Danish Players’ Union, which offered the DBU a temporary extension of the previous agreement to enable this month’s internationals to go ahead as usual and allow for further negotiation to take place before the next international matches occur in October. This offer, however, was rejected by the DBU on 2 September 2018, which meant that players from Denmark’s top two divisions, as well as those based overseas, were unavailable for selection.

Consequently, Denmark’s 24-man squad for their friendly with Slovakia consisted largely of futsal players and players from the third and fourth tier of Danish football. Denmark went on to lose 3-0 to Slovakia, with part-time salesman Christian Offenberg leading the attack and student Simon Vollesen playing at right-back. Denmark manager Åge Hareide and his assistant, Jon Dahl Tomasson, were also not present, with Euro 1992 winner and former Arsenal midfielder John Jensen temporarily in charge. The Slovakian FA were forced to slash ticket prices from €26,00 to €1,00 apiece for the friendly.

Despite this, on 6 September 2018, a temporary deal was struck between the Danish Players’ Union and the DBU. Subsequently, although no lasting deal has been agreed, Denmark fielded a full strength team in their 2-0 win against Wales on 9 September 2018, with Christian Eriksen scoring twice. The two parties are now hoping to complete negotiations before October’s international matches, when Denmark will face the Republic of Ireland and Austria.

Sophie Lees considers in more depth some of the risks that may arise with individual endorsements (particularly how individual endorsements can create tensions with national sponsorship arrangements), associated mitigation strategies and best practice tips in her recent article.