One of the biggest sports names in the world is not happy Sega is using their name in one of its tent pole franchises.
The Guardian reports that Manchester United is suing both Sega and subsidiary Sports Interactive over the use of the name in Football Manager, which has respectively published and developed the soccer/football management title for the past 15 years. Manchester United is alleging several instances of trademark infringement, including use of the name, and not using the official club’s crest in-game.
Counsel for the club alleges the name and logo are officially licensed out, with significant revenue generated from those agreements–agreements both Sega and SI are allegedly not a part of.
Sega and SI have argued the club has not complained about the name usage–going back to the franchise’s Championship Manager era in 1992–until now. They also argue the logo in question is part of a generic template the game engine generates, and that the companies have sent copies of Football Manager to the club, to various player and club member praise on social media and other public venues. In short, Sega and SI’s response reads, in part:
The claimant has acquiesced in the use by the defendants of the name of the Manchester United football team in the Football Manager game and cannot now complain of such use.
Manchester United, like the rest of the Premier League and nearly every other sport in the world, has been sidelined since the middle of March due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. They, and other sports teams around the world, are in desperate search for additional revenue and will be for some time, as any social distancing guidelines in effect will threaten game attendance once play resumes–if fans are allowed into stadiums at all.
Of most concern in the case is that part of the team’s argument threatens to put the brakes on a key policy Sega and Sonic fans have enjoyed with its games for a few years now: An open-door acceptance of modding. Manchester United wants to amend its complaint to address the use of mods and patches in-game. Per The Guardian:
The barrister asked Mr Justice Morgan to allow the club to amend its claim against Sega and SI to include allegations involving “the practice of supplying ‘patches’ or ‘mods’, essentially downloadable files containing replica trademarks, which consumers then incorporate into the game”.
Malynicz argued Sega and SI “encouraged” the use of patches supplied by third parties “by promoting the patch providers in various ways and, of course, they directly benefited from it by avoiding the need to take any licence and enjoying increased sales of their game”.
The issue is that many of those “third parties” are the players and fans themselves. Should the court in England allow that amended complaint to move forward, and should Manchester United find success on that claim, it could compel Sega to modify or end its current policy regarding all PC mods–in much the same way as how the outcome of Ken Penders’ case against Archie Comics warranted a purge of the series’ roster, the eventual demise of the series, and Archie’s loss of the comics license to IDW.
Football Manager is one of Sega’s key franchises, arguably right next to Sonic — and should Manchester United find success in court against Sega, all of the company’s properties and their creative communities could be impacted. We will monitor developments.