Is the German FA’s prohibition of sponsors’ brands on the back of soccer players’ shorts contrary to law? Osborne Clarke’s Bjoern Mann reports on a potentially crucial case for free commercial speech in Europe.
Legal fight in Germany for ads on soccer shorts
The Regional Court in Frankfurt will have to decide whether German football clubs might sell advertising space on their players' bottoms in the future. The main protagonist of this ingenious marketing strategy is Jürgen Scholz, the president of the German fourth division team Arminia Hannover.
Since autumn of 2003 Arminia Hannover's players have carried the words "Kanzlerstadt" ("Chancellor's city") on the back of their shorts. These words are not only a reference to the fact that German chancellor Schroeder comes from Hannover but also a local trademark for underwear.
Arminia was however fined twice for this practice by the German Football Association (DFB) whose tribunal ruled that advertising on players' shorts is strictly forbidden.
Scholz has now filed a civil claim against DFB with the regional court in Frankfurt. The essential legal aspects of the case are related to the fact that ads on shorts are allowed in other European jurisdictions (e.g. in Austria) and also permitted in a very popular German sports discipline called "Handball".
"Tawdry" says DFB
The German Football Association's ban on such kind of advertisement is based on their opinion that ads on shorts are "tawdry" and "annoying". But the DFB's stance could be regarded as an infringement of the basic principle of equal treatment and as an unlawful intervention on the free choice of marketing strategies.
The decision of the regional court in Frankfurt could affect the situation in the German Bundesliga as well as the legal opinion on this kind of marketing strategy in other jurisdictions. We will keep you updated.