Major Issues With Minor League Contracts

Standard player contracts were the topic of discussion during my Sports Law class at Quinnipiac University School of Law last night.  As a practical example we reviewed a minor league player contract that one of my students had been party to as a player. 

The objective was for the students to analyze the contract as if they were representing the player.  For purposes of background, the league at issue was unaffiliated with any major league, and there was no players’ union.   The students found many problems with the contract: a basic, 2-page, 15-paragraph document.  The following two issues stood out:

1.  Intellectual Property: the contract at issue granted broad rights to the league, with no limitation of scope.  Essentially the contract allowed the league to use the player’s name, voice, likeness and biographical information to promote the league, sell merchandise, and vested all broadcast rights in the league.  The player was required to waive any right to compensation.  

For a player that rises through the minor leagues to become a star player (see Kurt Warner), these issues could become important.  By virtue of the contract, the league could argue that it owns the player’s right of publicity in perpetuity.

2.  Sportsmanlike Conduct: the contract contained a morals clause requiring a player to conduct him or herself in a manner “complimentary to and becoming of the League” on and off the field of play.  Essentially this was a morals clause with no parameters of what constituted unsportsmanlike conduct on the field.

For example, would any penalty or only a major penalty result in a finding of unsportsmanlike conductor off the field?  As for off the field actions, could the player be punished for an act that caused negative publicity?  Or would the punishment only apply to a conviction or act involving moral turpitude?  Anything that “reflected poorly” on the league was fair game.  And by the way, the league had the ability to fine players, but there was no mention of any appeal process.  The only thing that was made clear was that all fines were to be paid within 5 business days.

The contract we discussed, was a contract of adhesion, which are one-sided by definition.  Bargaining power was further limited by the fact that at this particular level of minor league sports, players were unlikely to have counsel.  Ultimately a player might sign a one-sided contract for the simple fact that he or she wants to play.  However, players should be aware that there can be some major legal issues with minor league contracts.

Comments

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  1. […] longer being in Hartford next year if they cannot find an agreement with the XL Center, and contracts for all teams have their share of problems for the athletes. While some teams are just there to […]

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