When is an Appearance not an Appearance?

By Daniel Geey and Courtney Bryan-Isaacs

Over the years, I’ve been asked to review a number of football player employment contracts. This blog sets out why the definition of appearance can be one of the most important contract definitions for clubs, players and agents to consider.

Footballer Contract

The commercial terms of an employment contract are usually set out in a schedule to the contract. It will at the very least set out the player’s weekly wage e.g. £50,000 per week, accommodation expenses and particular bonuses. Typically for elite players at EPL clubs, the schedule will contain a wide variety of clauses including bonuses for appearances and/or winning a game in a particular competition, scoring or assisting goals (though such clauses are becoming rarer), release clauses when a transfer bid of a certain amount of money is made, wage increase/reduction clauses in case of promotion/relegation and what the club will pay to the player’s agent by way of commission.

Just one word however can significantly impact the economics for a player and their salary. The defined word “Appearance” is used a number of times throughout a player’s contract schedule. It is usually defined as a set number of minutes that the player must appear on the pitch for the club.

Playing Appearance Bonus

Sometimes the definition of appearance can be as straightforward (and narrow) as starting an EPL match. Alternatively, a set number of minutes may be required i.e. starting an EPL match and playing a minimum of 70 minutes.

The definition of appearance can be crucial when reviewing a draft contract. For instance, if appearance is defined as widely as being a member of the match day squad, this would benefit a young up-and-coming player who may not be ready for a significant number of on-field minutes in the coming season but who will still receive a bonus for the achievement of making the first team match day squad. Alternatively, for an established EPL player, the club may only pay an appearance bonus if he is in the starting line-up (and may be paid more as a result).

Appearance fees can also be linked/tied to wins or draws i.e. a player only gets a bonus if he plays 70 minutes for the team in an EPL match and the team wins. The clauses are also more nuanced so that appearance bonuses may differ depending on the competition that the player is playing in. Typically, the EPL and Champions League appearance and win bonuses will be much larger than FA Cup or League Cup bonuses (because the former competitions are more lucrative to the club than the later competitions).

Ultimately, a key element to consider is whether there is a set stipulated number of minutes a player must be present on the pitch in order to count as an appearance. Fans see players come on for the last few minutes of injury time but the question is whether three minutes is long enough to warrant an appearance bonus. These are the types of issues that can be extensively negotiated at the time of a deal.

Wage Increase Appearance Bonus 

Similarly, a clause may provide that if a player makes a certain number of appearances, his salary may increase from say £40k to £50k. It’s of crucial importance again to understand how appearance is defined. Much will depend on the number of appearances, the number of minutes the player has to be in the pitch for it to be classed as an appearance and for which competition does an appearance relate. If reaching £50k from £40k means 50 appearances and an appearance means at least 45 minutes in Premier League and Champions League matches, then even an EPL squad player may take a few seasons to reach such a target.

As such, making the clauses as obtainable and realistic as possible is key. Many savvy agents will for example, try to negotiate a more ‘player friendly’ appearance definition so that an appearance may mean say 20 minutes on the pitch for any first team game including FA cup and League Cup match and/or an extra £5k per week after reaching a lower target, say 25 appearances (both of these examples being more obtainable targets than the above example).

Additionally, a player may receive a one-off bonus (£100k) for reaching milestone appearances e.g. 25, 50 and 100 first team appearances. It’s easy again to see why defining appearance as broadly as possible for the player and as narrowly as possible for the club can be of real significance.

In addition, being selected or appearing for a player’s national team may lead to additional payments. Appearance could be defined as narrowly as playing as in the starting eleven in a competitive national senior team match. Compare this with appearance being defined as any match action for an u18-21 and senior national team match. Although the later may not be as lucrative in receiving a bonus for an u21s match, it means that the agent is looking for opportunities for the player to perhaps earn more obtainable bonuses as the player’s career develops.

In the next blog we consider squad bonus pools and how they differ from individual bonus structures like that for appearances as explained above.

My book Done Deal discusses these topics and many more player transfer and contract issues. It’s available to buy via Amazon and be downloaded as an ebook or via Audible.

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Whether it is a manager being sacked, the signing of a new star player, television rights negotiations, player misconduct or multi-million-pound club takeovers, lawyers remain at the heart of all football business dealings. Written by leading Premier League lawyer Daniel Geey, who has dealt with all these incidents first hand, this highly accessible book explores the issues – from pitch to boardroom – that shape the modern game and how these impact leagues, clubs, players and fans.

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