The FIFA Ballon d'Or trophy -- world soccer's annual award for its top player -- is turning up in transfer negotiations involving elite athletes as it becomes a marker of their commercial value.
Some contracts now contain clauses that pay bonuses to players should they win the award or are among the 23 nominees, according to Rodrigo Garcia, a lawyer at Laffer Abogados in Madrid who represents Spanish and South Americans in transfer deals. Teams have bargained for compensation if an athlete they trade takes the prize at his new club.
Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo beat Barcelona's Lionel Messi and goalkeeper Manuel Neuer of Bayern Munich for the prize in Zurich today. Ronaldo was favorite after ending Messi's four-year streak last year.
"The Ballon d'Or is becoming more important" as soccer contracts become more sophisticated like in U.S. leagues such the National Basketball Association, Garcia said. "It's a way to measure the publicity a player generates."
The Ballon d'Or, which means Golden Ball in French, was created by soccer magazine France Football and first awarded to 41-year-old English winger Stanley Matthews in 1956. At the time, only European players were eligible. In 2010, soccer ruling body FIFA merged its global award created in 1991 with the magazine's accolade.
Committees from FIFA and the French magazine draw up the 23-strong shortlist before national-team coaches, captains and journalists vote for the winner. Ronaldo won 37.66 percent of all votes, ahead of Messi with 15.76 percent and Neuer with 15.72 percent, FIFA said.
Real Madrid, which typically gets half of a player's endorsement revenue, is among those to see the value of Ronaldo winning the award, Garcia said.
Other top clubs including Manchester United (MAN) are also tracking the media profile of star players to evaluate the effect on team sales, according to Spencer Nolan, head of consulting in the U.K. at Repucom, a sports market research firm.
The last two years, Real Madrid complained when Sepp Blatter and Michel Platini -- the presidents of world soccer and European soccer's ruling bodies -- came out in favor of Barcelona's Messi and German national team goalkeeper Neuer over Ronaldo. Platini said he would prefer a member of Germany's 2014 World Cup-winning squad got the prize.
Di Maria Clause
Real Madrid said in a Nov. 28 statement that as UEFA president Platini should observe the "strictest neutrality" on the awarding of the Ballon d'Or.
A Real Madrid official, who asked not to be identified because of club policy, wouldn't say whether Ronaldo has a bonus clause or possible financial spinoffs for the team. Bayern Munich spokesman Martin Haegele said he couldn't confirm whether Neuer would get a bonus or not and Barcelona spokesman Chemi Teres didn't immediately return an e-mail seeking comment on Messi's situation.
In August, when Real Madrid traded Angel di Maria to Manchester United for 59.7 million pounds ($90 million), the Spanish club negotiated an extra payment if the winger wins the Ballon d'Or at the Premier League club.
Similarly, Brazilian club Santos will get 2 million euros ($2.4 million) if Neymar is among the three players shortlisted for the award in the years following his trade to Barcelona in 2013, the team said last year.
"There's no doubt the Ballon d'Or increases sales for both a player and his club," Garcia said. "It's becoming more and more significant as soccer becomes more commercial."