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Last Updated: Monday, 20 February 2006, 09:15 GMT
Protecting sport sponsors from ambush
By Bill Wilson
BBC News business reporter

Fifa partner Coca-Cola produced a jointly managed publicity event in Nigeria
Big brands want to be connected with sporting events via sponsorship

While the UK's athletes are battling for medals in Turin, another Olympic tussle is taking place closer to home, in the Westminster corridors of power.

But this battle will have a commercial, and not sporting, outcome.

The London Olympics Bill is designed to curb the advertising phenomenon known as ambush marketing before the summer games take place in the capital in 2012.

The bill is wending its way through Parliament as the government and the British Olympic Association (BOA) seek to ensure that sponsors get full value for money.

The BOA says the bill is needed to protect the integrity of its sponsorship deals, but the UK advertising industry says the proposed act's strictures are draconian and that business may suffer.

It wants proposals on the restriction of certain words surrounding the games amended.

Getting 'connected'

Depending on your standpoint, ambush marketing is either clever and inventive advertising, or a means of cunningly reaping the benefits of a major sporting event - without paying any official sponsorship monies.

Well thought-out attempts to ride on the back, and goodwill, of an event can be potentially damaging to sponsorship agreements
Sara Friend, British Olympic Association
Dictionaries describe it as a strategy whereby brands attach themselves to major sporting events without paying sponsorship fees, while at the same time creating a sense that they are somehow connected to the tournament.

Previous examples have included campaigns by sportswear maker Nike at both Olympic and World Cup events, and by beer-makers trying to intrude on legitimate sponsor territory by getting branded items into stadiums.

In Germany, the venue for this year's football World Cup, firms outside the official 15 FIFA partners and six suppliers are using ploys to associate themselves in the public mind with the event.

Aircraft 'ambassadors'

National airline Lufthansa has put football decals on the nosecones of 40 of its aircraft.

To the casual viewer it may seem the airline is an official sponsor of World Cup 2006, but Emirates is in fact the official airline of the FIFA tournament.

Lufthansa aircraft with football-design nosecone
Lufthansa has put a football motif on 40 of its aircraft

"The Lufthansa aircraft with the football nose will act as football's ambassadors inviting all to enjoy their stay here," says Lufthansa, associating itself with the tournament but avoiding any official connection.

And electrical retailer MediaMarkt is proclaiming We Will Be the Champions (Wir Wollen Den Titel), and that it provides a "Gold" service on prices.

However, if the UK government and British Olympic Association get their way, expressions such as Gold could be forbidden for advertisers when the games come to London.

The government is aware of the boost the games could give the UK economy and is doing everything to ensure big sponsors will be attracted and not have their rights packages diluted by the ambushers.

Hence the current bill, which makes a list of Olympic-related words and images prohibited for use by non-sponsors.

Forbidden words

Existing legislation already prohibits the use of distinctive "marks" like the Olympic rings, but now words like gold, silver and bronze could be on the banned list.

The proposed new legislation covers goods, packaging, advertising and other unauthorised uses.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has an Olympics Partners Programme, which gives big names like Coca-Cola, McDonalds and Visa exclusive marketing rights.

The words Olympic, Olympiad and Olympian
Olympic rings, Team GB and British Olympic Association logo
Words London 2012, London's bid logo and derivatives of London2012.com
The 2012 Games logo and mascots (not designed yet)
Olympic motto Citius, Altius, Fortius/Faster, Higher, Stronger
The British Paralympic Association and team logos
Other banned words may soon include games, medals, gold, silver, bronze, 2012, sponsor, summer

The London organising committee estimates up to 40% of its operating budget will come from sponsorship, hence the determination to tackle anything that might diminish sponsor revenues.

One tactic used in the past by ambushers - strategically-placed billboards near stadiums - has been tackled by the London organisers securing first rights on nearly all major city boards at the time of the games.

British Olympic Association lawyer Sara Friend says: "Ambush marketing should be seen as working against the interests of official rights package holders.

"We acknowledge there has to be a balance between the interest of sponsors and rights holders, and in allowing clever and creative advertising and marketing.

Crowds at Trafalgar Square
Now London has the games it wants to make the most of them

"But the BOA is not government funded and money for funding comes either through the IOC's partner programmes, or our own domestic sponsor programmes.

"Therefore we need to protect the rights that partners receive for backing Team GB. And it is incredibly important to protect the Team GB identity."

She said that at major events run by global bodies like the IOC, FIFA, and cricket's ICC, it was not unreasonable for host nations to put in place "legislative protection".

"We have no problems with creative advertising - but well thought-out attempts to ride on the back, and goodwill, of an event can be potentially damaging to sponsorship agreements."

'Too far'

But Christopher Hackford, legal manager at the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising, says: "Sponsorship should be protected, but we think the existing law in the UK is sufficient to protect sponsors.

"There are already safeguards covering copyright, trademarks, passing-off, and misleading advertising, as well as the Olympic Symbols Protection Act.

"The Olympics Bill takes this protection potentially too far."

The IPA has written to all 646 Members of Parliament to advise them of its concern, and says the proposed new law is "too broad and disproportionate".

"The position is clearly an unfair limitation of commercial expression," Mr Hackford says.

"Such radical and disproportionate legislation does not benefit anyone, it gives unparalleled power to event holders, which pushes up the price of sponsorship and prevents ordinary smaller businesses from benefiting at all from major national events."

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