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Legal insights & industry updates

| 1 minute read

Judicial review - Scottish football's Articles of Association analysed (again) by the courts

The Scottish Professional Football League (SPFL) is taking Rangers Football Club to arbitration after a clash over competing sponsorship deals.

Rangers have had a longstanding commercial relationship with a new and used car sales business, Park’s of Hamilton. The club renewed that sponsorship deal in May 2021. One month later, the SPFL entered into a new league-wide sponsorship deal with Cinch, a business which is also concerned in the sale of second-hand cars. Rangers had raised concerns about a conflict between the two sponsors and have remained loyal to their own team sponsors by refusing to put the Cinch name on their players’ shirts and on interview backdrops and refusing to provide the SPFL with a copy of their contract with Park’s.

The SPFL has referred the dispute to arbitration and initially did not involve Park’s of Hamilton in that process. The Court of Session has now ordered that the Scottish Football Association (SFA) cannot commence the arbitration without first sending a copy of the Notice to Refer, containing full details of the dispute, to both Park’s and Cinch. 

The dispute before the court concerned the interpretation of the SFA's Articles, and whether or not commercial partners of members of the Association such as Park's or Cinch had an interest in the dispute. The court found they did and, in accordance with the SFA’s articles, they should have an opportunity to participate in and be bound by the outcome of the arbitration.

Notably, challenges were made to whether or not the interpretation in favour of the sponsors inclusion in the arbitration made commercial common sense. The Lord President in his judgement (quoted in this article) reasoned that to protect against reputation risks to the game, it made sense that these commercial partners could take part. 

Of course, this is not the first time in recent years that the court has had to deal with disputes amongst members of the SPFL. The early ending of the SPFL seasons of 2019/2020 saw a number of Scotland's premier clubs look to take the matter before the courts. This attempt was referred back by the courts to arbitration. 

Both these decisions illustrate the importance placed on the agreements reached between members of sporting associations to refer their disputes to private forums such as arbitration, and the value the court places in sports arbitration processes in general. 

The airing of such disputes may carry a reputational risk to the game and its participants which the SFA, as the supervisory body, will be keen to avoid. These disputes may not always be confined to members of the SFA, the SPFL or associated persons. A clause which permits third parties with an interest to enter the arbitration process, and thereby be bound by it, accords with common sense.


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