How do football lawyers differ to football agents? An interview with Daniel Geey

Published 17 October 2019 By: Manan Agrawal

Daniel Geey

Recently, football lawyer Daniel Geey and football agent Erkut Sögüt attended Mumbai to help teach The Football Business Certificate, educating current and future leaders about best practices of the global football industry. While there, Daniel and Erkut kindly agreed to answer some questions for me on topical issues in football. In this interview, I asked Daniel for his opinions on the following questions:

  • What is the role of a football lawyer?

  • What exactly is football law?

  • Should football adopt an NBA style transfer system?

  • What are some of the most memorable deals that you have been part of?

  • Is there a need for stricter regulation of who can own a football club?

  • How can football be promoted India? 

Click here to see my related interview with top football agent, Erkut Sögüt.

What is the role of a football lawyer? How are football lawyers and agents different?

As a football lawyer, my role is complimentary to that of an agent. Most of my work is in conjunction with the agent, for example, with transfers, contract renegotiations, brand endorsements and image right deals. It can also involve any kind of dispute that the player or an agent might have with the club, other agents, brands and other contractual issues or even reputation management issues. The role of a football lawyer is very different to that of an agent because an agent deals more with the commercial aspects. Ideally, my role is to offer complimentary service to the service offered by the agent.

What exactly is football law? Is it any different to sports law? What role does law have to play in football?

I am not sure that there is something called football law or even sports law to tell the truth. I think it’s just a collection of lots of different areas of law, whether it is property, intellectual property, contract, dispute resolution. If I need to be a football lawyer, ideally I need to be a relative expert in different spheres of law. I started out as a regulations lawyer, and then ultimately converted that into being a disputes lawyer and then into a commercial and intellectual property lawyer. Ultimately, the law touches football in all its aspects: if its broadcasting rights, then it’s a tender process; if it is free movement rights, then its EU law or UK law; if its contractual issues, then it’s the law of England and Wales and on and on. Football touches lots of different industries and it’s just a matter of figuring out what law applies.

With the revenue gap between the rich clubs and the smaller clubs constantly growing, do you think that football would benefit from certain radical changes in the system like a salary cap or NBA style draft replacing the transfer window? 

The NBA style draft is the easiest one to answer, since the draft relies upon the college system and the university system in the UK is not set up for that approach at the moment. So, I don’t think that an NBA style draft is going to come into place any time soon, but you never know, maybe big systemic changes can be made. Coming to the salary cap, there already is an indirect salary cap in place in essence. I think that the UEFA and Premier League, indirectly, prohibit major spending on wages. The clubs are not allowed to spend under UEFA’s Financial Fair Play regulations and under the cost control and sustainability regulations which are, in a way, essentially a soft cap on salaries. There was a slightly stronger cap with the Premier League regulations limiting the increase in wages to£7 million year-on-year which has now been removed. Ultimately, there are provisions which essentially perform the function of a salary cap, however, there are no regulations which can be considered to be a hard cap on salaries.

What are some of the most memorable deals that you have been part of? They could be memorable for the right or wrong reasons.

Most of the deals that I am involved in are not really nice experiences since the situation around the deals is extremely pressurized and there are lots of people who have different ideas and are pulling you in different directions. Usually, I have to be the person who says no to things or ask for a change in things and most of the times, some parties (including your own client) will not see the value in you making particular arguments and they just want the deal to be done. But my job, most of the time is to point out the risk and possible outcomes of taking the risk. With one deal that we had, around 2 summers ago, I was the one who was holding up the announcement of the deal because the selling club had not provided an indemnity which stopped my client, the agent, from being sued in the future. I held up the signing of the player until we had the indemnity in writing from the selling club. We waited for two and a half hours for that indemnity to come through whilst the buying club was going crazy with us to get the deal finalized, but I did not let the player or the agent sign the deal until we received it.

In light of the current situation surrounding Bury FC, do you feel there is a need for stricter regulation of who can own a football club? Or are you of the opinion that a club belongs to the fans and thus should be owned by the fans?

The answer to the second part is that I think it’s difficult now for fans to own a club for different reasons. For example, the top clubs are just too expensive now. Could things change if the new government decides to nationalise clubs by law? Maybe they could. For Bury FC specifically, I think it’s fair to say that the regulations for the lower fringes of the EFL are not as stringent as for the upper echelons of the UEFA Champions League or Premier League.

Do you think that the regulations on the upper leagues are stringent enough then?

It depends actually on what you are looking to safeguard. If you are looking to ensure that clubs are living within their means so that there is not a lot of financial instability, then the regulations at the top level have done well because most clubs are close to being profitable or breaking even at the very least. If it is because you want to stop people of a certain character because they have been involved in other difficult scenarios like insolvencies, criminal records etc., then there are provisions already in place but there might be scope to tighten them. The problem at present, throughout all the leagues, is what is called the owners and directors test which is a declaration that is to be signed with statements like ‘You have not been declared bankrupt or insolvent’ or ‘You do not have an interest in another club’ or ‘You do not have any convictions’. But all of that is an objective test. It is not based usually on somebody’s opinion. For example, to be a solicitor, I have to pass a suitability test which is a test to see if people think my actions or activities are becoming of a solicitor. In case of football, there is no subjective test and only an objective test. The question that arises is that whether certain elements become more subjective and whether then as a result you make subjective value judgements.

Football is gaining traction in India and is currently India’s second most popular sport especially with the advent of the Indian Super League. However, the ISL is yet to attain the kind of success that the IPL, for example, has achieved. How do you feel that the game can be promoted in a country like India? 

That is the billion rupee question. I am trying to compare this to the situation before the Premier League went behind the paywall. I think the Premier League has a problem in the future because not enough people have been watching it now for a number of generations. I think, for the ISL to be as successful as it can be, it needs to provide tickets at cost pricing or just above cost pricing, which I think it is already doing. I also think that it needs to provide broadcasting for free on the internet to everyone so that, over a long period of time, it will become a set fixture in the Indian consciousness for the television and internet watching public where you align an easy ability to watch an investment for over 5-10 years. This would eventually lead to the next generations, and it might not happen even for the next 10-15 years, to start watching games. Most of Premier League’s monies come from broadcasting rights. But the only way to sell broadcasting rights is by creating demand. Football in England has evolved for 150 years. Technology is India’s real advantage. Look at how easy it is to make content accessible. To me it is very simple. How you convince people that they want to be entertained is with an interesting data product that is accessible to everyone. That is what is happening in the UK at the moment with women’s football. They have decided to put the WSL live on OTT free for everyone.

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Author

Manan Agrawal

Manan Agrawal

Naik Naik & Co., Mumbai

Manangraduated from Pravin Gandhi College of Law, Mumbai and currently works at Naik Naik & Co., Mumbai in the Media and Entertainment Non Litigation team.

He holds a keen interest in sports law and has been selected as a Mentee in the inaugral LawInSport Mentorship Scheme, being mentored by the CEO of LawInSport, Sean Cottrell.