With Manchester United riding high in the Premiership, head of legal Patrick Stewart is ensuring the club enjoys success off the field as well as on it. By Steve Hoare
Since I’ve been here things have been going really well. We’ve signed the biggest shirt sponsorship deal, the stadium’s capacity has increased to 76,000 and we’re top of the league. There’s a real feel-good factor about the place, which people who are not here aren’t really aware of,” says Patrick Stewart, head of legal at Manchester United.
This will come as great news to the millions of Man Utd supporters, but may be greeted with derision by millions more. Despite Jose Mourinho’s best efforts, no team splits opinions quite like Man Utd.
After the turmoil of the Glazer takeover it seems that things are running more smoothly at Man Utd and the club’s first in-house lawyer is thrilled to be part of it.
Since 1967 Brabners Chaffe Street senior partner Maurice Watkins acted as a quasi-in-house lawyer, enjoying a seat on the board from 1984 until November 2004. He was the board’s longest-serving member when he was voted off by the incoming Glazers.
Watkins is still a non-executive director and remains involved in the legal side, focusing mainly on football aspects such as transfers and disciplinary matters.
“He is one of the world’s leading authorities on football and regulatory matters,” says Stewart.
Stewart joined Man Utd in March last year from Team Marketing, the marketing agency that deals with the sponsorship and television rights for the Uefa Champions League.
The decision to bring in an in-house legal function was made before the Glazers’ arrival, but it is something the Glazers supported.
The initial impetus for having an in-house legal function was to impose cost efficiencies, but more significantly it has brought a more commercial approach to deal-making.
Stewart explains: “I take personal responsibility for sponsorship contracts. Anything on the marketing and media side I either do myself or take a very close interest in. The second part is coordinating external legal advisers and the third element is to improve systems of contract management.”
The first thing Stewart had to deal with when he joined the club was the largest shirt sponsorship deal ever completed in the UK. Stewart used no outside counsel. The deal with insurer AIG, which took its advice from Addleshaw Goddard, was, in Stewart’s own words, “a baptism of fire”.
“It was a great start – very high profile and very important to United,” he adds. “I felt lucky to have that as a first significant deal. From a legal perspective there was nothing particularly unusual, but from a commercial perspective it was a US company investing in a UK football club with the main aim of raising its profile in Asia. That created a very interesting dynamic and that dynamic underpinned a lot of the negotiations.”
Since then Stewart has worked on a string of deals with companies such as Audi, Betfair, Budweiser and secondary ticket exchange Viagogo.
The deal with Viagogo allows fans to exchange tickets that they cannot use. Some have questioned the legality of secondary ticket exchanges, but Stewart says: “The exchange is only among members. We see it as discouraging touting.”
In addition to Brabners, Stewart also turns to Wiggin partner Sean James for some media rights issues and Beachcroft for HR and liquor licensing advice.
Allen & Overy (A&O) has inherited a corporate role with the club after corporate partners Andrew Ballheimer and Richard Hough advised the Glazers on the takeover.
There have been some residual matters following the takeover, with A&O senior associate Edward Barnett picking up the reins.
“Most of the post-takeover activity happened before my arrival,” says Stewart, “but there is the issue of managing dissenting shareholders.”
To that end Man Utd has an investor services company called Computershare, which manages dissenting shareholders.
There have been a few of them since the Glazers took over, but few will be too upset with the club’s current Premiership position. Even less so if it dips its foot into the transfer market this month to secure a strong holding midfielder.
Of the onfield side, the only area Stewart would get involved in is image rights – a strange, new concept that nobody had really heard of until David Beckham transferred to Real Madrid.
“From a legal perspective it’s a grey area because there’s no definitive UK law on this. Image rights, as a term, is just used to bundle together a number of rights that celebrities feel they can exploit,” explains Stewart.
Stewart will leave the rest of the transfer window dealings to chief executive David Gill and Watkins and his team at Brabners. Those who thought Watkins’ influence at the club may be declining after the takeover and Stewart’s appointment are mistaken. Brabners also helps out on the commercial side, where partner Jason Smith advises.
“The Brabners relationship is very close and very good,” concludes Stewart. “They’ve provided me with a great deal of support.”
Head of Legal
Manchester United Ltd
|Organisation:||Manchester United Ltd|
|Turnover:||£160m (11 months to 30 June 2005)|
|Head of Legal:||Patrick Stewart|
|Reporting to:||Financial director Nick Humby|
|Main law firms:||Allen & Overy, Beachcroft, Brabners Chaffe Street, Wiggin|
|Patrick Stewart’s CV||
1990-95 – LLB (Hons), University of Glasgow
1995-98 – trained at Burness;
1998-2001 – IP/IT solicitor at Maclay Murray & Spens;
2001-06 – legal manager and then senior counsel at Team Marketing;
2006-present – head of legal at Manchester United