A rising football star’s identity trademark strategy

Currently, there is a lot of buzz around Robert Lewandowski, one of the best football players globally, who recently decided to move to FC Barcelona. In one of his latest interviews, he revealed that he was planning to change his club because he needed new challenges in life. However, is he ready for new challenges from a trademark perspective?

The most famous footballers are much more than recognised athletes; they are brands in themselves, adding many goods and services related to their name or image to the market. For more than a decade, the title of the best football player in the world was exchanged between Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, who protect their interests by registering trademarks.

To retain their sporting and marketing dominance, they applied for as many marks as goals scored per season. Nowadays, Cristiano Ronaldo has 88 registered trademarks (in each case, the applicant is Cristiano Ronaldo dos Santos Aveiro) and Lionel Messi has 79 (in some cases, the applicant is Lionel Andres Messi Cuccittini, in others Messi Cuccittini Lionel Andres).

While the performance of these stars was decreasing season by season, the performance of Lewandowski was increasing. Beating scoring records one by one, he was marking his place on the footballing map as a global brand. If he wants to monetise his recognition, success on the pitch should be followed by marketing and legal success applying for marks to protect his name and image, and creating his IP strategy.

Diversified ownership structure

There are various trademarks filed or registered, which are related to Robert Lewandowski. However, the Polish footballer is not the direct owner. The abbreviation of his name and surname is RL, and there are two RL trademarks registered for RL Management – a company where he is the only shareholder. Lewandowski is famous for playing with the number nine on his shirt. Consequently, it is possible to find some RL9 marks, which are owned by:

  • Happy Plan By Ann (relating to Anna Lewandowska, his wife);
  • OTFC SA (one of the largest Polish companies offering sports clothing, owner of the brand 4F); and
  • 5IN9 GLOBAL Sp zoo (the name of the company relates to five goals scored by Lewandowski in nine minutes in 2015).

There are 20 marks filed or registered by these three companies related to Robert Lewandowski. The first company has registered marks, including RL9 energy bar and RL9 muesli bar. The second one provides for clothing created with the cooperation between 4F and Lewandowski. The third is owned by a friend of Lewandowski. 5IN9 GLOBAL Sp zoo is the owner of RL9 trademarks with the widest scope of protection. Therefore, presumably, those marks may serve as a good starting point for any business cooperation.

Footballers often diversify their income sources, and Lewandowski is no exception. Less than a year ago a new restaurant and sports bar called ‘Nine’s’ opened in the centre of Warsaw (the word ‘Nine’s’ is a registered trademark). However, none of the companies mentioned so far are owned solely by the sports star himself, however he is one of the shareholders of the restaurant.

What is behind the diverse ownership of trademarks related to Lewandowski? Probably these were all business decisions, and each trademark may relate to a different business initiative. We do not know if this kind of diversification is the result of a conscious plan and strategy. However, when there are many marks related to one person, but owned by various companies, there is a risk that the data in the register will not be updated.

In the case of marks related to Lewandowski, some are owned by companies that have changed the form of their activities, and some no longer exist, but they are indicated in the register as the current owner of a still valid mark.

Consequently, a trademark may not be renewed because the new company will not be aware of the assets of the previous company. When all marks are owned by one person (as is the case with Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi), it is much easier to manage the entire portfolio, handle trademark renewals and licence agreements.

Lewandowski is not the only one

There was another case in Poland of a high-profile football player who did not own trademarks related to his identity. Three years ago, a striker of much skill seemed to appear from nowhere, and was being hailed by some as the next Lewandowski – Krzysztof Piątek. He had a great run of goals in Italy and he was renowned for his goal celebration – pretending to shoot from his hands like guns. There was no doubt that it was such a remarkable celebration that it deserved a trademark registration.

As is apparent from the Polish trademark register, there are some signs related to that celebration, classified as figurative, multimedia or motion. It turned out that Piątek not only followed Lewandowski in athletic feats, but also in trademark strategy. All trademarks related to Piątek are not owned by him, but Fabryka Futbolu (his football agency).

How well Lewandowski will monetise his portfolio with his decentralised approach, only time will tell.

This is an Insight article, written by a selected partner as part of WTR's co-published content. Read more on Insight

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