Manchester United has launched legal proceedings against Sega Publishing and Sports Interactive (SI) over the use of the club's name in the video game Football Manager.
The club has claimed infringement of its trade marked name through its inclusion in the game, as well as of its logo due to the fact that SI used a simplified red and white crest alongside the club's name rather than the team's official logo. They stated that “consumers expect to see the club crest next to the name Manchester United ... and this failure to do so amounts to wrongful use”.
Sega and SI, in their defence, indicated their repeated use of the club's name in video games dating back to 1992 "without complaint by the claimant" and argued that such use of the name was legitimate in the context as there was no risk of confusion or damage to the club's trade marks.
The business of sports has exploded over the past two decades to the extent that elite-level sports clubs are now among the most valuable brands in the world. However, as I have mentioned before, COVID-19 has had an unprecedented impact on the world of sport and its revenue streams.
On this basis, it is not surprising that Manchester United are looking to tighten protection for their registered rights to ensure that consumers are left in no doubt as to the club's image and visual representation. To separate the name from the badge may have been seen by them as too great a disconnect when compared to extensive use of the two together on a wide range of merchandise products.
Success for United in this case would set a precedent that many other clubs would surely be keen to follow. It will be interesting to see to what extent the biggest names in sport continue to allow the use of their trade marks in this kind of setting in future.
Sega and SI say the use of the club’s name is “a legitimate reference to the Manchester United football team in a football context” and has been used in Football Manager and its predecessor Championship Manager since 1992 “without complaint by the claimant”.