08-11-06

Sports Agents Less 'Essential' Than Artist Managers A high court has confirmed its quite different view of sports agency contracts from those of musicians' and artists' agencies. The former agent of Wayne Rooney, Proform Sports Management Limited, lost its claim of unlawful contract interference against the footballer's new agents, Proactive Sports Management Limited, in a judgment published yesterday. Proform entered into an exclusive management and agency agreement with Rooney in 2000 (when he was 15 years old) for a term of two years. He did not take legal advice, though his father also signed the contract. The contract covered all "functions in respect of personal representation on behalf of his work as a professional football player" as well as all "contract negotiations and transfers". Within two years, Rooney left Proform to join Proactive, who Proform claimed had induced Rooney to breach his contract by leaving. Proactive claimed that the contract did not cover "marketing and image rights" and more importantly, in any event, was voidable by Rooney for being a contract with a minor. The court accepted that a contract with a minor is not enforceable against him unless it is a contract for "necessaries" but it was unclear whether this covered only "necessary goods and services supplied to the minor" (such as food, essential clothing and shelter) or if it extended to contracts of apprenticeship, education and service. The court found that, as Rooney was at the time already with a club (Everton) that was providing him with training, and the Proform contract made no provision for training, education or instruction, the contract was voidable by (i.e. not binding on) Rooney. The Proform agreement, the court said, did not "fall within the class of minors' contracts which are analogous to contracts of apprenticeship, education and service". Accordingly, there can be no legal action for inducing or assisting a person to ignore a contract which is anyway unenforceable. Whilst this case has implications for sports agents (who need to consider other methods for confirming any contracts they make with minors), it may be less important for music managers who, the court said, "organise matters essential to the very business of the musical artiste". "Players' representatives", the court went on, "do not undertake matters that are essential to the player's training or his livelihood. They do not enable the minor to earn a living or to advance his skills as a professional footballer." It should be noted that the Proform contract appears to have been terminated before any professional contract could have been negotiated with Everton. The decision also does not seem to take into account the relevance of using a form of contract approved by the FA, registering that contract with the FA or of a contract being with a corporate entity (which cannot be a licensed agent) rather than an individual (i.e. a licensed agent). The full text of the judgment may be accessed via: http://www.lawtel.com/~9ba65fc06e31447e9cdb913e6155ed2d~/content/display.asp?ID=AC0111991ChD.pdf
Article by Tom Frederikse