Fanatics claims it owns your kids’ likeness rights, forever

Fanatics has their latest cost-cutting scheme, and it’s trying to get perpetual likeness rights from children and potential future minor leaguers years before they go pro.

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Thanks to some excellent reporting from Britt Ghiroli at The Athletic, we now know what the latest chapter in the “everything Fanatics touches is terrible in some way” saga is. Fanatics is partnering together with Perfect Game, the “world’s largest baseball scouting service” which serves as both a showcase for amateur players and a high-level competitive environment for amateur baseball, in order to create memorabilia for these kids. Sounds innocent enough, right? Of course there’s another layer to all of this.

Perfect Game already had kids giving up the rights to their likenesses, as agents have been warning parents for a couple of years now about the practice, but, as Scott Boras told Ghiroli, “They have now gotten into profit-taking on this.” Amateurs can’t have agents, but agents can advise them, and not signing is one thing they’re being advised about now.

In a waiver release form on Perfect Game’s website — the title of which, “participantrelease2019,” suggests it’s at least five years old — there’s a section called “Media Release.” Within that, participants are informed that their signature at the bottom of the document grants Perfect Game “the absolute and irrevocable right” to use their name, signature, likeness, image, voice and/or appearance in any photos, videos, audio, digital images or cards on behalf of any Perfect Game or its affiliates, at any present and future events related to Perfect Game.

The section also states participants will not receive any compensation for the use of those things, and releases Perfect Game from any and all claims and demands related to usage and ownership of the participant’s name, signature, likeliness, image, voice and appearance.

“Now Fanatics owns all of this and they can say, ‘We don’t need to do a deal with you, we have your signature already,’” said another agent. “Why would they pay for more when they have a warehouse full of stickers you’ve signed and consented to already?”

This isn’t some fear mongering, either. There is no expiration date for the rights Perfect Game holds for these likenesses in the documents parents are signing, and, per The Athletic, Fanatics believes this means that they do, in fact, hold these rights in perpetuity. Which means that for any of the Perfect Game players who do make it to professional baseball, Fanatics already owns the rights to their likeness. So, there is no new deal awaiting them for rookie cards or memorabilia with Fanatics after a top prospect is drafted, for instance, because Fanatics already has what they need to make and profit off of one.

This might not sound like a common occurrence, but Perfect Game, as The Athletic pointed out, boasts that over 2,000 of their players have made it to the majors, while over 14,000 have been drafted. This is a pipeline that Fanatics would even bother to partner with, is the thing, and Fanatics is doing so because they can squeeze even more profit out in an unethical way. They love to cut corners, and the corner they’re cutting out here is the players themselves.

This isn’t the dojo your kid learns karate at asking if it’s alright if a photo or video of them is taken in class and then used in their “join the fun!” promotional materials. It’s Perfect Game, a massive organization in the baseball world, partnering with a company that holds a $31 billion valuation in order to do the kind of things that got them that valuation in the first place.

Considering, too, the importance of likenesses in the history of Major League Baseball and the Players Association — the union was able to fund its own work in the early years of Marvin Miller specifically because of reworked licensing deals that saw the players all partnering together as one entity, and the lack of a union is what initially kept minor leaguers from receiving any compensation for their likenesses being used in video games — this feels like a particularly egregious issue that will splinter future iterations of the union.

Some players won’t have the rights to their own likenesses, which could cause some issues with negotiations and how much Fanatics feels like they need to be paying for the rest of the package, which ends up impacting both the union and all the players. This might not sound like a significant deal for the players at the top end of the pay scale, but there are so many more players than that out there, and the union takes its own cut for its own expenses from deals like this, as well.

Right now, though, the issue is that children are being exploited, because apparently that’s where Fanatics decided they needed to go next to make sure number go up. It’s embarrassing, which is certainly fitting for the company we’re talking about, at least, but hopefully the agents can help put a stop to this somehow, through the kind of class action lawsuit by the parents that was mentioned in Ghiroli’s piece.

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