SPORTS MONTH: Ambush Marketing and the 2012 Olympics

With the Beijing Olympics upon us and the brand licensing sector desperately racking its collective brains to work out how to survive the impact on business of the credit crunch, plans just might be hatching to shore up business with some merchandise-planning themed on the 2012 Games...
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Great idea. That’s if you’ve safely got your licence from LOCOG (London 2012 Organising Committee for the Olympic Games) sitting in a frame above the desk.

If not and you’re unaware of the tariff, know that to go for gold with a tier one sponsorship package you’ll need to pay a cool 80 mill. But if you find that’s a touch excessive, well, I’m sure they’ll set the tier 2 package at a far more competitive rate and, you never know your luck, if they have a tier 3 package it might even cost only seven figures not eight.

If you still aren’t persuaded because you don’t have this sort of cash to invest or, even if you do but you’re finding it hard to justify the outlay against your hoped-for return, then you might be tempted to do your own thing and try unofficially to cash-in on the goodwill wave which will hopefully be sweeping the nation.

I am not suggesting this need be done in any low or suspect manner – a simple message of support in a paid-for advert might be all that’s being considered here; after all, it’s not a crime to be patriotic, surely?

Actually, it could well be; the advice might well be ‘beware, all that glitters is not gold’.

It was a condition for all countries that bid for the right to host the 2012 Olympic Games that, if successful, they would implement specific laws to counter ‘ambush marketing’. Following London’s successful bid, the London Olympic and Paralympics Games Act 2006 has fulfilled that objective.

The new anti-ambush marketing legislation is unlike anything the UK has seen before, as it prohibits just about anything which might be used for commercial purposes to create even the mildest of impression of association with the 2012 London Olympics.

A simple advertising message of support for an athlete or team could be enough to breach the new law. Also, any attempt to identify the 2012 London Olympic games in a less direct way is still likely to fall foul of the new law; for example, to use a mixture of 'Summer' and 'Games' is just one example amongst 34 others of potentially prohibited combinations of key words.

The new laws promise a level of protection to LOCOG which is way beyond anything previously available. LOCOG know it and have dedicated a team of three to police the new laws.

Add to this the fact that breaching the law not only has criminal sanctions for your company and its directors but also civil sanctions, for example by aggrieved official sponsors, and perhaps rushing to join the Olympic bandwagon without the proper sponsorship package would be more a case of chasing fools gold rather than the real thing.

Yet LOCOG admits that ambush marketing will still take place. Perhaps also there is a sense of unease as LOCOG, aware that the received wisdom is that the new UK legislation is flawed and may be vulnerable to challenge, waits for the first move. For those feeling brave enough to make that challenge and blaze a new trail, the advice must be to do your homework first and that includes taking expert legal advice.

Ian Down is a partner in the entertainment, marketing and intellectual property department at Hamlins LLP, solicitors, in Regent Street, London and specialises in marketing and media law. Readers are advised that lawyers are like licensors – before you get a licence to rely on their advice you have to engage and pay them first. So please note that this article does not represent advice which may be relied upon or for which any responsibility is accepted by, the author or his firm.


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