Baseball Selfie with Obama Raises Endorsement Questions

Our NYC and Miami Entertainment Law Firm advises and represents clients in all legal matters related to music, sports, television/film, visual and literary works, modeling, online matters, and intellectual property.

Athlete endorsements have been around in the sports industry for many decades, and many of Florida’s professional athletes have relied upon them for a significant portion of their incomes. Traditionally, endorsements took the form of appearing in an advertisement or at an event, but the digital age has brought new possibilities and new complications.

Recently, Red Sox player David Ortiz lit up the Internet when he took a photo of himself with President Obama. Like the millions of selfies posted online every day, this one featured two people smiling for the camera. However, since this one featured a baseball star and the President of the United States, people shared it more than 40,000 times as soon as Ortiz put it online.

Soon after the photo went online, some reporters noted that Ortiz had previously signed an athlete endorsement deal with Samsung and the photo was taken with a Samsung smart phone camera. This raised the possibility that when Ortiz took the photo and posted it online, he was merely acting in his capacity as a “social media ambassador” for Samsung – in other words, the whole thing might have been a publicity stunt.

Ortiz denied that Samsung told him to take the selfie and post it online. When asked about the Samsung connection to the photo, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney denied that Obama knew anything about Ortiz’s endorsement deal.

Similar questions arose after this year’s Academy Awards ceremony, when host Ellen DeGeneres famously took a selfie surrounded by movie stars. She used a Samsung phone.

Social media and smart phone endorsement deals are becoming increasingly common in sports and entertainment. However, these deals can blur the lines between one’s work and personal lives in ways that traditional endorsement deals did not. Florida attorneys with experience negotiating contracts for endorsement deals can help athletes and entertainers to reap the benefits of these deals while avoiding many of the potential pitfalls.

Source: The Boston Globe, “When a selfie becomes an endorsement,” Michael B. Farrell, April 3, 2014

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