Jumping Bale: contract needed all eyes on the ball

Gareth Bale’s transfer deal involved a complicated juggling act by a cross-departmental team amid a media frenzy

Grant Gordon, head of corporate, Fladgate

Fladgate acted for footballer Gareth Bale in relation to his recent transfer from Tottenham Hotspur FC to Real Madrid.

The transfer was a protracted affair, which is to be expected with a high-profile player and two leading clubs, but Fladgate’s role intensified in the weeks before the close of the transfer window on 2 September. The arrangements were delicate at times and required advice on various areas such as regulatory, tax and commercial matters, including intellectual property and image rights. 

A key aspect involved liaison with Spanish lawyers and tax advisers, not only to accommodate Real Madrid’s structuring of matters but also to convey how Bale wished things to proceed. Details are, of course, confidential.

In such deals, lawyers need to carefully navigate the player’s existing contractual arrangements and how these interact with those of the new club. Existing sponsorship deals may compete with official club sponsors and these issues need to be resolved before signature.

The deal required a cross-departmental team working to an immovable timeline against the backdrop of intense media interest and, as is often the case in football, was dependent on other transfers. Detailed review and negotiation was required in the context of an ever-changing bigger picture (and the close of the transfer window).

In essence, two deals were taking place simultaneously: between Real Madrid and Spurs and between Real Madrid and Bale. As a result of his higher profile in recent years, issues relating to Bale’s image rights took centre stage. From Real Madrid’s perspective, the perceived value to the club of Bale’s image rights was a key driver and underpinned certain monetary aspects.

The pattern of such transfers is generally dictated by the clubs as the players’ arrangements need to fit in with the clubs’ established corporate structures and working practices. But clubs are taking more interest in players’ image rights and commercial pulling power, and this trend will continue.

The most difficult aspect? Undoubtedly, not letting anyone in the firm know that the team was working on the deal until the end.

The legal line-up was as follows:

  • For Bale: Berwin Leighton Paisner partner Graham Shear; Fladgate partners Grant Gordon, Alan Wetterhahn, Huw Witty and Spanish sports lawyers Iñigo Landa Aguirre and Melvyn Grantz. 
  • For Tottenham Hotspur: Tottenham Hotspur director of football administration Darren Eales is understood to have advised the club on the transfer.