Unofficial promotion of products inside sporting event venues

Ambush marketing

Ambush marketing is a practice whereby companies try and associate themselves with an event in a way in which only the official sponsors have a right to do.

There are various aspects of an event such as the Intellectual Property Rights of the world governing body and the various sponsors which can be protected as such things as trademark rights.

Promotional material inside the stadiums

One of the most common ways in which companies will try and associate themselves with a sporting event is by handing out promotional material to the ticket holders who will be present within the stadium during an event.

Why is this done?

This is done in one way to promote the brand to the people within the stadium who the products are being handed out to but also in the hope that the name of the product will be seen by the millions of people watching the event on television.

What is the problem with this being done?

The companies who sponsor the event will be the only companies that have the right for their brand names to be seen on television. For example during the football World Cup the sponsorship hoarding around the side of the pitch will only include the names of the companies who are sponsors of the event.

Furthermore, the official sponsors will also undertake certain practices in handing out samples of their products to the supporters in the stadium. This is a goodwill practice of the event.

If other companies undertake these kinds of practices without having paid the amounts which have been paid by the sponsors it will weaken the exclusive sponsorship deals entered into by the sponsors of the event.

How can an event prevent this kind of material appearing inside the stadium?

The best way that a sporting event can prevent this kind of material appearing inside the stadium is through the ticketing general terms and conditions. If there is a clause contained within the general terms and conditions which states that promotional material will not be allowed inside the stadium this gives the event organisers the power to remove these items upon entrance to the stadium.

What happens if an individual refuses to hand over the promotional material which they are trying to take into the stadium?

If an individual ticket holder trying to gain access to the stadium has promotional material on their person and refuses to relinquish it they can be refused access to the stadium.

Is it legal for the event organisers to do this?

The event organisers have the right to refuse anyone access to the stadium if they have valid reason. If there is a clear breach of the ticketing terms and conditions then this will be regarded as reasonable and will be perfectly lawful as when purchasing the ticket the individual will have accepted when they purchased the ticket.

Is there a potential scenario when the individuals undertaking part of the promotional campaign will not be able to part with the promotional material?

This is an issue which has come to light in June 2010 during the football World Cup held in South Africa. During one of the matches a large group of female supporters were wearing dresses the same colour as the Dutch national football team. The issue in this case was not the colour of the dresses – bring orange – but was the fact that they were issued by a company producing alcohol which was a direct competitor of one of the sponsors of the event.

As the promotional material could not be removed the individuals involved were removed from the stadium as they were in breach of the ticketing terms and conditions.

Can any other sanctions be brought?

In this case the world governing body of FIFA considered issuing criminal proceedings against two of the women involved with the promotional campaign. The two women were seen to be promoting the beer brand inside the stadiums during the match in contravention of the guidelines handed down by the world governing body of football – FIFA.

On what grounds would the criminal sanctions have been brought?

The football World Cup held in South Africa during the months of June and July 2010 has been deemed a protected event under South African legislation meaning that any form of ambush marketing would be deemed a criminal offence.

FIFA has since decided to drop the criminal action.

Would this happen under the current laws of England and Wales?

The way the law exists under the English and Welsh system would mean that the possibility of bringing criminal sanctions in this way would be extremely difficult as the grounds for normal sporting events are not protected by legislation in this manner.

The only potential equivalent could happen during the 2012 Olympic Games under the London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games Act 2006.