Buying technology: unique challenges football clubs face and steps to overcome them

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The adoption of technology to provide an edge – both on and off the pitch – is growing year-on-year and we are seeing increasing volumes of contracts being entered into with IT companies as football clubs look to gain commercial, operational and playing advantages.

Contracting for technology products comes with its own set of challenges and pitfalls. For clubs looking to level up their IT ahead of the 2021/22 season, this article sets out five points to watch out for.

  1. Get off to a good start – the majority of technology purchases will require at least some degree of implementation or configuration before it is up and running along with the rest of a football club’s IT. As such, it is important to ensure that the contract addresses who is responsible for introducing the technology, when that will happen by and how it is decided whether the technology been successfully and completely installed. Rights and remedies for the football club in the event that the IT solution is not “live” by a fixed date can be invaluable leverage to surmount any rocky starts.
  2. Ensure the technology is there when it is most needed – if it is particularly important that a piece of software is running at a given time – perhaps around a match-day or in the run-up to the launch of season tickets or a new replica kit – consider whether the contract includes adequate service levels to provide comfort that the IT will be fully functioning during this period. Most technology suppliers’ standard service level packages are unlikely to be tailored to the quirks of the footballing calendar, so an enhanced or bespoke support package may be required.
  3. Retain control over marketing communications – supplying their product into a high-profile football club is often something an IT supplier – particularly a small-scale start-up – is keen to shout about, so their standard terms will often include a right to announce the partnership and/or list the club as a customer on their website. Clubs keen to retain control over their reputation and brand should think twice before agreeing to these clauses and give proper consideration to the scope and value of the rights being conferred.
  4. Impact on future commercial partnerships – technology start-ups boasting an innovative product are often prime targets for acquisition by the market leaders, so clubs holding sponsorship deals with IT companies should be alive to the risk that a new software supplier could one day sit within the wider group of a competitor to a club sponsor. A right to terminate for change of control, or other rights to exit the contract quickly, can help to mitigate the risk of potentially being in breach of a lucrative sponsorship arrangement in the future.
  5. Does the technology need to integrate with other IT? Often, a piece of software will feed into, or retrieve data from, other areas of a club’s IT environment. For example, a ticketing platform may need to “talk” to the club’s third-party website and payment-processor providers. A supplier will usually look to place this responsibility on the football club, so consider whether you have the IT expertise in-house to build these “integrations” (and, if not, the cost of contracting for them) and if your contract with other providers contain any barriers to interacting with the new software.

Beyond these challenges specific to football clubs, the usual, commonly contested points around data, ownership of IP and rights to terminate (or other remedies) should all be considered. Our recent webinarAvoiding/Managing disputes in tech contracts” offered some further thought in relation to some of these issues.

For specific advice on the agreements you have in place, or new agreements you are looking to make, please contact Luke Jackson from the Technology & Digital Team.