The Belgian association of professional football clubs, the Pro League, adopted specific rules regarding obligations towards the media. Although those rules are addressed to the clubs, it is largely up to the players to ultimately fulfil these obligations. In the case of infringement, the club is fined. Nevertheless, the players often bear the financial sanctions since the clubs impose the same media obligations on the players through their employment contract or through the applicable working regulations[i].
Context and regulatory framework
As a rule, one’s image is protected based on Article XI.174 of the Belgian Code of Economic Law.[ii] The right to protection is however less strict when it comes to public persons such as professional athletes. The image of a public person may be used without his or her permission for informational purposes, to the extent that the right to privacy of the person depicted is not violated.[iii] An athlete can however oppose the unauthorised use of his image for commercial or economic purposes.[iv]
In football, the applicable Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) stipulates that the club may use, free of charge, the name and image of a professional player if the intention is to inform the public and the player's private life is not violated.[v] Regarding the use for commercial purposes, players generally assign the exploitation of their image rights to the club via their employment contracts. The player remains free to enter into advertising agreements with third parties, except for agreements with competitors of club sponsors and/or for advertisements that are deemed to harm the image of sport (e.g. tobacco and alcohol).[vi]
In addition, the CBA allows the Pro League, the Belgian national teams (i.e. the Belgian FA) and their commercial partners to use photographs or images of the player, individually or as part of a team, as part of an overall campaign.
In addition, the Pro League, has decided to implement specific rules and obligations towards the media in connection with the competitions organised under its auspices. In particular, the “ Regulations concerning broadcasting rights for Pro League and Proximus League matches” ("Belgian Pro League Regulations") were adopted on 29 October 2014 and amended on 10 August 2016.
The Belgian Pro League Regulations are aimed at the members of the Pro League, i.e. the clubs, and not at the players. In other words, although the players must ultimately perform the media obligations, the liability in case of non-compliance lies with the clubs. As such, the players do not have any direct media-related obligations towards the Pro League. That being said, to limit their own liability towards the Pro League, clubs generally integrate an obligation to comply with media-related requests in the player’s employment contract or in the work regulations.
Interviews and press conferences
The Belgian Pro League Regulations make a distinction between three categories of stakeholders: the Live Match rights holders, the Magazine Highlights rights holders and accredited press.
The Live Match rights holders are granted the right to interview the following people:
- 75 minutes before the game: head coaches (5 minutes);
- Beginning of half time: at least one player of each team (1.5 minutes);
- End of half time: assistant coaches (1.5 minutes);
- Immediately after the game: at least two players of each team (2.5 minutes);
- Within fifteen minutes after the game: head coaches (2.5 minutes).
The Belgian Pro League Regulations, however, establish that if the requested player is unavailable for a legitimate reason, another player who has played for at least 30 minutes can replace him upon the club’s proposal.
The Magazine Highlights rights holders are only entitled to an interview with the head coaches and one player of each team after the game (2.5 minutes).
All interviews must be organised in front of the Pro League’s billboards.
At the latest, thirty minutes after the head coach’s first interview, a press conference must be held, which is open to all rights holders and accredited press.
Regarding the financial sanctions, the Belgian Pro League Regulations provide that each first infringement of the rules above is punished with a penalty of EUR 1,000 on the club. For any subsequent infringement of a rule of the same nature during the ongoing season, the penalty is increased by EUR 1,000.
After the game, all the players can pass through the mixed zone, where they can give interviews but without being obliged to do so. The club must however designate two players who can be interviewed.
In the mixed zone, the TV interviews are only allowed in groups and not individually.
The coach is not allowed to be interviewed in the mixed zone.
Upon the Magazine Highlights rights holders’ request, the clubs will make their players and coaches available for the production of the magazine at least three times a year.
In case the club refuses to make the requested player or coach available for the magazine, a fine of EUR 2,000 is imposed. The fine will be doubled for any subsequent infringement of the same nature during the ongoing season.
In Belgium, the association of professional clubs has implemented specific rules regarding the obligations towards the media. Those rules are addressed to the clubs, but obligations are ultimately fulfilled by the players. In the case of non-compliance, the club risks fines. To comply with the rules, clubs impose similar obligations on the players via their employment contracts or the work regulations.
This article was part of a comparative study. The full article is available here.
[i] In Belgium, each professional football club must adopt work regulations, i.e. a sort of employee handbook summarising the rights and obligations of the club and its employees.
[ii] Other grounds are often cited: Article 8 ECHR, Article 17 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Privacy Law of 8 December 1992, Article 22 of the Constitution, Article 1382 of the Belgian Civil Code, etc.
[iii] Court of First Instance Brussels (24th Chamber), 18 November 2010.
[iv] Court of Appeal Brussels (7th Chamber) 4 October 1989.
[v] Article 40 of the CBA of 11 January 2018, 145058/CO/223.