In Conversation: Alex Scudamore, head of legal, Wimbledon – The All England Lawn Tennis Club (Championships) Limited

As head of legal at Wimbledon, Scudamore has the unique task of advising one of the United Kingdom’s most treasured brands. She talks about her journey to Wimbledon and the challenges faced by the organisation.

GC: Could you tell us about your pathway into law?

Alex Scudamore (AS): I read French and German at Bristol University, and then completed the law conversion course. Prior to starting that, I took the usual route of looking at different options in terms of what I might want to do. I ended up completing a vacation scheme at Macfarlanes LLP. Off the back of that, I was offered a training contract. I then completed the law conversion course and LPC. It was after this that my training and career at Macfarlanes started.

GC: How did you move in-house?

AS: I was in the commercial team at Macfarlanes. The department was broad in terms of the areas of law covered – anything from commercial contractual work, to IP, to brand protection and data protection. I was therefore geared up in a very commercial way. I was then sent on a secondment, initially to a card payment processing company – an industry I was not particularly familiar with. It started off as a three-month secondment, but ended up being nine months in total. It was semi-virtual, with half the time spent in their offices out in Cambridgeshire, and the other half of the time spent back at Macfarlanes. So my first taste of in-house life came when I was a year-and-a-half qualified. I then went back to Macfarlanes’ commercial department to carry on there. It was after this that an additional secondment opportunity came up at CSM, a sports marketing company. I enjoyed the opportunity so much that I ended up never going back to Macfarlanes. I ended up remaining at CSM for four and a half years.

GC: How did you come to be head of legal at the AELTC?

AS: I was very happy working in the sports marketing company. But, for me, the appeal of the AELTC was working for a rights holder, as a lawyer. When working for an agency, you’re unable to give external legal advice to your sporting clients – whether that be brands or players, you’re always at a slight distance. I was starting to think about my next move and the appeal of Wimbledon was obvious – it’s such a strong property, it’s such a strong brand, it’s established in the sporting world, and therefore an opportunity that I just couldn’t turn away.

I began as head of legal at the AELTC in September 2018. Before me, the AELTC never had a full-time in-house resource and instead used a combination of retained legal resource (via Kerman and Co.,) and other external firms. But the time was finally right to have that full-time, day-to-day legal resource, so I was brought in as the only full-time lawyer, as head of legal.

GC: What’s a typical working day for you?

AS: I would say no day is the same and the work is extremely broad. I mean, I certainly haven’t been bored since I’ve started working here, there’s been a steady workflow. There will usually be several major contracts on the go at any one time. These could be anything from a renewal with one of our key official suppliers, to queries that arise from broadcast arrangements, IP protection, ticketing issues and data protection. Recently, I’ve been doing a great deal of work on the grass court season that the AELTC has been investing in.

GC: Tell me about Wimbledon’s grass court strategy?

AS: We have invested in developing our grass court strategy. The aim of this is ultimately to provide world-class opportunities for junior players to compete on—and thrive on—grass, at all stages of their development. We’ve obviously got a Grand Slam event here, but there are many tournaments in Europe which form part of the women’s and men’s professional tours. These are very important, as we want to give players the best opportunity to play on grass. In that three-week gap between Roland-Garros, which is played on clay, and Wimbledon, which is played on grass, we have created a grass court series for the world’s top 150 players. We’ve announced a series of strategic investments to strengthen this season. We have also acquired sanctions to stage those tournaments. But, whether it’s been by way of acquiring sanctions or obtaining rights, in relation to the staging of the tournaments, we’re working with tournament delivery partners in the various territories to deliver these events.

GC: What’s legal’s role within the formation of contracts with your sponsors?

AS: If it’s a new official supplier (sponsor) deal, you will be brought into some of the earlier discussions, so around the heads of terms that might be agreed. You’re also brought in materially a little later on. We’re responsible for putting together our ‘official supplier’ agreement. We now have a standard form agreement that we will populate, often followed by some degree of negotiation. The agreement takes the form of your main body of legal terms and a schedule of rights setting out the rights that our official suppliers are getting. This is a standard structure in rights deals.

If you have a renewal of an existing agreement, then there may be certain items that would have been renegotiated commercially, so it would be our responsibility to work with the commercial team to negotiate these agreements.

Earlier on this year, we entered into a new partnership with OPPO – the Chinese mobile phone company. We haven’t worked with a Chinese partner before in the context of an official supplier arrangement, so this was an exciting new deal which also covers an entire new product category.

GC: How have you developed your skills during your time in the industry?

AS: As a lawyer, this is something that happens naturally – I have become much more strategic in a way which enables me to advise in a more commercial way. Having that ability to step away from the pure legal and really understand – to get under the skin of the business – greatly helps. Of course, you still must be that academic lawyer in many senses but I think, certainly in-house, you have a need to be both commercial and practical. You don’t want to be seen as the deal prohibitor in the organisation, you must be the enabler.

GC: Would you say that being a ‘business enabler’ is an advantage of working in-house?

AS: Yes, 100%. When you’re in private practice in a law firm, you have a variety of clients and, to a certain extent, you’re at an arm’s length from their day-to-day business. But, coming in-house, your ultimate main client is the business itself. You are there to protect – and have a credible working understanding of how the business works – whether that be financially or strategically. You also must be able to juggle the various different stakeholders within the business: from your senior board members – the executive board and here, at the AELTC, the committees, made up of members of the All England Club. You must balance those stakeholders within the business, but you must also be able to work with everybody – this includes those involved in the ‘on the ground’ delivery of The Championships. Though, for me, it’s the variety. There’s an awful lot that goes on to ultimately stage one of the best – well, we think The best – Grand Slam event in the world. As head of legal, you have a key role in making sure that you are doing everything in your power to protect the business.

GC: What sorts of challenges are you facing, or have you faced, working at Wimbledon?

AS: I think it’s getting to grips with the business – and that naturally does take time. You may have to deal with legal issues which you haven’t necessarily come against or had much exposure to before. Certainly for me at the AELTC, the area of broadcast has been a new area for me – from a pure commercial understanding, but also legally – so we’ve been working with external parties on that. It’s getting to grips with new areas – you definitely have to learn on the job. It’s not a case of looking things up in a book: reading a case isn’t necessarily going to help you, you’ve got to develop practical learning.

In my role, I would also say that it’s probably been juggling the number of different matters that require my attention legally. You also have to develop a deep understanding of broader issues in the tennis context, from a wider, global perspective. You need to grasp how the various other tennis organisations (like the professional tours for men and women, the WTA and ATP, for example) function and interact. This is very important for us as a Grand Slam event, so for me, the biggest challenge has been understanding how everything ultimately fits together.

I think as an organisation our biggest challenges are compliance related. We are delivering a major sporting event, with hundreds of thousands of people who visit the grounds, so one of our biggest challenges is security. Fortunately, we have great internal and external teams who focus on that. I think for me, it’s also certainly GDPR and data protection. We need to make sure that this continues to remain at the forefront of our focus as an organisation.

Also, there was an independent review into the sport of tennis from an integrity perspective. Since the Tennis Integrity Unit has been established, the AELTC has been actively involved in this to make sure we are upholding the highest levels of integrity in our Grand Slam event and, indeed, these new tournaments that we are now involved in.

GC: What have you enjoyed most during your time at the AELTC so far?

AS: The AELTC is growing at such a pace and we can’t afford to be complacent. We’ve acquired the Wimbledon Park Golf Club that is situated across Church Road from us – that ultimate expansion is very exciting. Further expanding our investment into the grass court tennis season has been a new thing for the AELTC – it’s been a new experience for me too. I’ve had to develop an understanding of how the ATP and WTA sanctions to stage tournaments work. Aside from some of the highlights mentioned, for me, it’s the ability to work with a range of people, and the exposure that I’ve been given within the organisation has been great. It’s pretty interesting for a lawyer here – you’re not kept siloed in your little box in an office tucked away, you are out there speaking to people. I’d like to think that I’ve become, or I am becoming, that trusted adviser within the organisation, which is what any in-house lawyer should strive to be.

GC: You mentioned the rights to stage such tournaments. Could you tell me a little more about these?

AS: It’s about making sure that the agreements we’ve got to stage these grass court events are robust enough to allow us to do what we want to do. We’ve had to juggle quite a few different parties – because on one hand, you must make sure that you’re acting in accordance with ATP or WTA rules (which govern how these tournaments must operate). Then, on the other hand, you’ve also got to manage the relationship with the entities that are delivering these tournaments on the ground. So, there has been some back-to-backing in these agreements: making sure that we’re not giving third-party rights in relation to the tournament, which we ourselves do not have. That has been quite important from a legal perspective because there’s a real balancing act around those protections.

GC: What’s in the pipeline for the AELTC?

AS: We’re continuing to invest in The Championships, which is the pinnacle of the sport of tennis. The investment in the grass court tennis season instils the love of the game in people and, ultimately, the ambition to play at Wimbledon at a young age. We also have the acquisition of the Wimbledon Park Golf Club – that was a very important moment for us in terms of our master plan for the future. We’re investing in our environmental sustainability too. Continually trying to improve and never becoming complacent is key for us.

GC: How important was mentorship for you, as you developed within your own legal career?

AS: I think it’s important to have a mentor, especially from an in-house perspective. This need not necessarily be a lawyer, but someone you can learn from in a career development perspective – someone who’s got experience of working in different organisations. Personally I don’t particularly like these female forums, because I think it actually highlights barriers which shouldn’t exist – and don’t exist sometimes.

Speaking honestly, I don’t think there are any barriers that exist for women getting into the in-house legal profession. I certainly haven’t encountered them. I think you get roles, in my experience, based on merit – and that’s the way it should be. I think one thing that I would say is that you do need to have an added confidence – I mean, certainly being in the sport sector, it has traditionally been a male-dominated industry. I think that you need to have the confidence to speak – if you’re in a boardroom with senior executives who are all men, you shouldn’t be put off by that, but certainly I haven’t seen any barriers from my side.

I think mentorship is a good thing. I think if you’re in a law firm, there is an obvious hierarchy, and naturally it is important to talk to those people who are further on in their careers about how they got there. I think this somewhat slightly changes in the in-house world. It’s helpful to have a network of other in-house lawyers to openly talk to about the challenges that you might be facing and how you go about progression – because the in-house career path is not as obvious as private practice, so to speak. I’m a lawyer for a rights holder; it is important to have a network of other lawyers in a similar position, because there’s naturally learning that you can take from other sporting rights holders.

GC: If you could go back to the start of your law career and give yourself some advice, what would that be?

AS: Stick at it. When you’re in private practice, the hours can be long (the hours are still long sometimes). I think that it can be a bit of a shock, initially. When I finished law school, I was in a corporate firm, doing pretty long hours. But, stick at it. Enjoy the learning.

I would also say have a think and take a step back when it comes to deciding what particular area of law you want to go in to. Don’t qualify into a particular department because of the people alone (although it naturally helps) – it needs to be an area that you’re truly interested in. Fortunately for me, it has been an area that I was interested in. But I’m not sure if I necessarily appreciated that back when I was choosing where I wanted to qualify. I knew I enjoyed being a commercial lawyer. But I don’t think that I appreciated how important that decision was at the time and how it would shape my career. Being a commercial lawyer has been absolutely brilliant because I’ve had the flexibility of starting off in private practice and then being able to go in-house, which has hugely suited me.