Global marketing powerhouse and occasional football side Manchester United are suing both Sega and developers Sports Interactive over their Football Manager series, claiming that the game’s use of “Manchester United” as an unlicensed team name is “wrongful”.
As The Guardian report, United say that “the products and services that are licensed by the claimant benefit from an association with the club’s winning culture and its brand values”, and that when it comes to Football Manager’s use of the team name—and not its crest or kit—“consumers expect to see the club crest next to the name Manchester United ... and this failure to do so amounts to wrongful use”.
In their defence, Sega and SI point out that the Football Manager games have done this since 1992 without anyone complaining, and that use of the team name is “a legitimate reference to the Manchester United football team in a football context”.
They also say that, despite United’s legal team currently taking this stand, other parts of the organisation, like their analytics and scouting departments, have actually contacted SI in the past looking to make use of the game’s famously comprehensive player skills database.
Of greater consequence to the game’s fanbase than a stoush over a single club’s name, though, is the fact United have told the court that they would also like to go after Football Manager’s ability for fans to import custom crests, kits and loads of other licensed stuff via mods (though a judge is currently deciding whether this later addition to the list of allegations will be allowed to form part of the suit).
The base game ships missing many of the sport’s biggest licenses, but with a few clicks Football Manager makes it easy to have fan-made packs like these imported into the game. It’s a key part of serious Football Manager fandom, because who wouldn’t want to make the experience as realistic and authentic as possible?
United’s barrister Simon Malynicz QC argues however that SI should be stopped from allowing “the practice of supplying ‘patches’ or ‘mods’, essentially downloadable files containing replica trademarks, which consumers then incorporate into the game”, and which benefits Football Manager by “avoiding the need to take any licence and enjoying increased sales of their game”.
In my legal experience as a Football Manager fan, that would be some bullshit right there.