Olympic bodies and their official sponsors are pressing for tighter legal controls over those who use major world sporting events for promotional purposes without paying a penny in sponsorship fees.
Who: British Olympic Association and London 2012
Where: Department for Culture, Media and Sport
When: August 2004
The BOA and London 2012 (a joint venture between the Greater London Authority and the Government) are reportedly meeting with the DCMS to discuss possible new UK laws dealing specifically with ambush marketing.
It is not entirely clear what these parties see “ambush marketing” as encompassing. One press report included odd references to fly-posting. However, it is more likely that they are thinking about unofficial, but still quite legal activities such as:
1. when Linford Christie wore the Puma logo on his contact lenses at the 1996 Olympics, where Reebok was an official sponsor.
2. American Express’s ad campaign in the VISA-sponsored 1994 Lillehammer Winter Olympics, featuring the slogan “If you are travelling to Lillehammer, you will need a passport, but you don’t need a Visa!”
3. more recently Heineken giving away branded foam megaphones/hats outside venues at Euro 2004.
Why this matters:
Governments are now feeling the pressure from event organisers to introduce specific anti-ambush laws that go beyond traditional legal protections, which in the UK take the form of trade mark law, passing off, copyright and ticket terms and conditions, and are looking to their counterparts around the world for inspiration.
Indeed it has become something of a trend in recent years. South Africa for instance introduced far reaching anti-ambush legislation prior to the Cricket World Cup in 2003, leading to the inevitable stories of fans being ejected from stadia for wearing the wrong shirt or having cans of Coke rather than Pepsi. Portugal introduced similar laws prior to Euro 2004.
It is rumoured that the measures that China will take for the Beijing Olympics in 2008 will be even stricter. Organisers have said that they will control advertising not only around competition venues but also on all public transport, at airports and on the city’s streets.
So where does that leave the UK? As Britain prepare the next round of their bid for the 2012 Olympic Games, it is arguable that without additional protection for sponsors’ rights, the UK may be put at a disadvantage compared with countries who are prepared to implement such legislation, or who already have it in place.
The UK already has special protection for the Olympics under the Olympic Symbols, etc. (Protection) Act 1995. But if further legislation is proposed, how far will this go? Will the Bill seek to make ambush a criminal offence? How widely will “ambush marketing” be defined? Will seemingly legitimate marketing activities suddenly give rise to a risk of jail.
Watch this space for further ambush developments!