Players and Popstars

By | February 23, 2016

To preface this blog post, I understand very little of soccer but I do keep up with Kardashians. Howevers the parallels between the transfer market in soccer and the current plight of Kesha have intrigued me to explore further.


So what is going on with Kesha?

Kesha Rose Sebert, previously known to the world as Ke$ha, filed a lawsuit in October 2014 to void her contract with Dr. Luke. The contract she had originally signed prevented Kesha from recording and publishing music outside of Kemosabe Records, a subset of Sony run exclusively by Dr. Luke. In her lawsuit, Kesha accuses Dr. Luke of sexual, physical, verbal, and emotional abuse over the past 10 years. Following the filing of Kesha’s lawsuit, Dr. Luke filed his own accusing Kesha of defamation and breach of contract. Last week in a New York court an injunction that would have allowed Kesha to record outside of Sony and without Dr. Luke as her producer was denied[1].

Image retrieved from Google


And what is a transfer?

Basically, when a player enters into professional soccer he or she signs their name to a team. By signing into this contract the player also enters the transfer market. The idea behind the transfer market is to put the best players on the best teams. But this of course does not always happen. Sometimes a player will not want to move because they like the team they are on, sometimes they are being paid too high a salary to move, sometimes the team they are on does not want to sell them. There are a multitude of reasons why a player may or may not move that are not limited to their relative skill. In 2002, transfers were been limited to two seasons, summer (July 1st—August 31st) and winter (January 1st—31st). The mechanics behind a transfer are simple: Club A has a player Club B wants, Club A and Club B come to an agreement on price, Club B and the player come to an agreement on salary, the player signs with Club B. Nowadays many players have these transfer prices pre-agreed as part of their original contract. It seems relatively simple but the reality of transfers is anything but. It can take months to come to an agreement and the transfer payments can take years to pay off. This is not including the added complication of signing bonuses, designed to get a player to leave, and loyalty bonuses, designed to get a player to stay, and selling-on fees and buying-back fees. To top it off there are also loans, non-permanent transfers which can last anywhere from weeks to seasons and function to keep a player technically in one club while they play for another. Also, transfers and loans only apply while a player is still under contract. Once that contract has expired the player is free to move how they want[2].

Image retrieved from Google


Now how are these two connected?

What struck me about these two cases is that the player or artist can have little to no say. In soccer, if you signed with a club and they want to keep you, all they have to do is up your transfer fee to a point no one else wants to touch you—Lionel Messi. Similarly, Kesha is unable to get out of her contract with her alleged abuser. Basically, it is the organizations that have the final say, not the people those decisions impact. While this protects the rights of the companies, it invariably causes harm to the players and popstars.


[1] Johnston, Maura. 2016. “Kesha and Dr. Luke: Everything You Need to Know to Understand the Case.” Rolling Stone, February 22. Accessed February 23, 2016.

[2] Thomas, Andi. 2014. “The European soccer transfer market, explained.” SB Nation, July 28. Accessed Febuary 23, 2016.

4 thoughts on “Players and Popstars

  1. Anne Straneva

    Interesting comparison and I appreciated the juxtaposing of the two circumstances. I would like to add a third player to the comparison came and introduce the thought of NCAA athletes on the contractual pressure they feel in the form of elite higher education attendance and scholarship funding.

    With billions at stake, the temptation to cheat and bind student athletes to contracts have mounted by There is a risk for to jeopardize the academic integrity of these athletes as they devote tremendous hours of dedication to their sport. There is thus unequal collegiate educational experience. College is the fundamental preparation for career and the building of a lifelong internal network is priceless. The integrity of these institutions are jeopardized when low achieving students are able to attend elite universities through there athletic talents, and conversely high achieving students having their university experience compromised due to their immense athletic time commitment.

    Ironically enough the NCAA is categorized as a nonprofit with billion dollar TV contracts. There is always a gray area between amateurs and professionals, which launches into the discussion of pay scale for college athletics. Has an amateur playing for the love of the sport evolved into professionalism as they begin to be expected to be compensated for their athletic performance? There exists a gap in compensation for athletes with the full cost of attendance, which exceeds the dollar value of scholarships. There is a discrepency in bringing in big bucks for their schools and not a penny of salary.

    Similar to being bound by contracts, the NCAA is thwarted with letters of intent, binding an athlete to an institution, and contracts and the benefits of athletic scholarships. The legality of “cradle robbing” minors to exploit there talent is interesting to note and brings into question the ethical aspect of having these minors future decided for them.

    “The N.C.A.A.’s Ethics Problem”
    by Joe Nocera
    Jan 25th, 2013

  2. Breanna Atkinson

    First of all, what a great way to help out those of us who also do not have a very in depth understanding of soccer yet. Ke$ha is one of the biggest headlines right now, but what is interesting, is that the transfer rules, of not only professional soccer or professional sports in general but also NCAA sports (another topic altogether). Unfortunately, singers, actors, and athletes have a lot of pressure, a lot of attention, and seem to have a lot of power, but in the end, you are right, a contract, which is required in most of these individual situations, takes the power away from the individual it affects the most.

    Although I think Ke$sha’s story is a bit different due to the lack of general personal safety she did not have access to when working with her former producer, the same idea is there for sports as well. If someone is being unfairly taken advantage of, ESPECIALLY if they are expected to be the “face” of an organization (i.e. the athlete signing the soccer balls after games and the singer on the cover of the albums), they should have the right to transfer clubs, producers, or whatever it may be.

    The thought behind contracts is a fair one. Contracts help provide security to both parties, but unfortunately, contracts are too often taken advantage of by the party granted more power. That party tends to be the producers and coaches/owners of the world. That being said, there are many producers, coaches, and club owners who are effective at what they do and beloved by whom they work with, but the fact that there is even an option to take advantage of another individual like this is a real problem.

  3. R. Lewandowski

    @Samantha: Your comment about Kesha’s contract is an interesting one, so I tried to look into it a bit more.
    (“Moving forward, I wonder if other stars like Kesha will push to include clauses in their contracts that can give them some leeway if a certain situation arises that renders them legitimately unable to continue their contract, as was the case with Kesha.”)

    I would imagine that such clauses are already in place—whether explicitly in Kesha’s specific contract—or implicitly through appropriate legislation. In Kesha’s case, it seems that the issue centered not on whether the contract could have been abrogated due to sexual assault claims, but on whether or not the sexual assault actually occurred. Still, according to Mark Geragos, Kesha’s lawyer, the lawsuit may be a “first-of-its-kind case,” since no apparent precedent for termination of a record contract for physical abuse exists. In this specific case, it appears that the New York Supreme Court ruled against Kesha due to the lack of definitive evidence (factual detail, medical evidence, etc.) that Dr. Luke had assaulted her. To complicate things, Kesha denied that Dr. Luke had assaulted her under oath in 2011, though her lawyers claim that she had been threatened to do so.

    So, I don’t think it boils down to what was in the contract, but you and Rachael do raise a really important parallel concerning the dialectics of power in soccer vs. the musical artistry. In Kesha’s case, clearly the burden is on her and her legal team to prove the veracity of sexual assault claims against Dr. Luke—something that is excruciatingly difficult given the pre-existing disparities in power. For instance, proving that Dr. Luke threatened Kesha to deny sexual allegations in 2011 and summing up verifiable legal evidence that sexual assault occurred is a monumental task.

    Circling back to soccer, I would imagine that player-league power disparities are also egregiously skewed—because of the transfer regulations in place and where the money is. Just to end on a more positive note in response to your comment, “I also wonder if similar issues arise in FIFA with transfers,” the Goldblatt book, The Game of Our Lives, mentions a series of legal maneuvers that pushed the power balance toward the players. Here is one that I thought you mind find interesting:

    “In 1995 the European Court of Justice ruled, in the case of the little-known Belgian player Marc Bosman, that a club’s ability to hold on to a player who was out of contract as long as they offered him a new one on at least equal terms was an illegal restraint of trade” (Goldblatt pg. 25).

    Sources for Kesha’s physical abuse matter:

  4. Samantha Shapiro

    This comparison is really interesting and certainly not one I had thought of before reading this post. While I admit that I do not know the ins and outs of the Kesha trial, I assume that there was not a clause in her contract that specified any circumstances in which she could be freed from her contract (i.e. abuse) because this was probably not even on her or her lawyers’ minds when they originally signed with Dr. Luke and Sony. Moving forward, I wonder if other stars like Kesha will push to include clauses in their contracts that can give them some leeway if a certain situation arises that renders them legitimately unable to continue their contract, as was the case with Kesha. Although this type of industry is unlikely to change anytime soon and the power will remain in the hands of the corporations, I definitely think it is important for artists to legally protect themselves from getting stuck in dangerous situations, especially with their careers at stake.

    I also wonder if similar issues arise in FIFA with transfers. While I am sure there have been players that have not been happy with their contracts and want to break free from an organization that is doing everything in its power to keep them, I am curious if there have been any major legal disputes pertaining to a player’s safety or health. FIFA is known to be a rather corrupt organization, so I would imagine that the players would not necessarily receive the utmost respect from the executives. However, FIFA (and the rest of the world) also idolizes its male players; I would not be surprised if a male player found himself in a situation at all similar to Kesha (or even female FIFA players in general) and had a much easier time being released from his contract. Perhaps Kesha was not really taken seriously because she is an incredibly artistic, alternative-styled woman who found fame at a very young age, and therefore her pleas were not honored because she does not really have much agency at all in her industry. Male FIFA players can direct the success or lack thereof of a team, and hence their well-being might be more valued.


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