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As part of my training contract I was fortunate enough to undertake a six month secondment at one of the world’s largest football clubs – Manchester City FC.
From an outsider’s perspective, it’s easy to think that the business of a football club begins and ends on the pitch. While the ‘beautiful game’ is the heart of MCFC, the substantial business infrastructure underpins everything the club does. A vital part of this machine is the MCFC legal team.
During my six-month stint at the club my work spanned player transfer agreements, sponsorship and endorsement deals, employment and IT matters. While the majority of the work fell under the umbrella of “commercial contracts” no two days were ever the same.
Football clubs are faced with a multitude of legal and non-legal issues. While some of the issues are commonplace within businesses generally, some are football-specific.
For example, if a club seeks to enter into an agreement with a new kit sponsor, not only must the parties reach agreeable commercial terms but they must also abide by the Football Association rules regarding kit advertising. These rules dictate how often the sponsor’s name, mark or logo may appear on the shirt and shorts and in what size. If a club participates in international competitions they must also comply with the relevant regulations of FIFA, UEFA and other Confederations.
In addition, as with other Premier League clubs, MCFC must ensure that it does not fall foul of the financial fair play rules which were brought in to prevent professional football clubs spending more than they earn in the pursuit of success.
Non-football specific matters – for example the protection of intellectual property and confidential information – are just as important to the club. As with any business which licences its intellectual property, it must ensure that contractual terms and strict approval processes are put in place to control the use of IP by third parties. After all, prohibited use of IP could potentially damage the valuable MCFC brand. Likewise, when sharing sensitive information, confidentiality agreements must be drawn up to ensure that such information is not leaked into the public domain.
The MCFC secondment proved to be a steep learning curve for me. As a trainee solicitor I often came across the phrase “commercial awareness” and I believe my true appreciation of this term only came following my secondment. I was able to observe and be a part of the inner workings of a business. I saw first hand the work that goes on behind the scenes to ensure that players are signed, training facilities are built and fan experience is improved, and how the legal team plays an intrinsic part in helping the club achieve success. The experience I gained was invaluable and something I will never forget.
Rachel Cowgill is a solicitor in the commercial, technology and media team at Gateley.