The 2006 FIFA World Cup has highlighted what many brand owners already know: football is big business. This year’s competition recorded viewing figures in excess of 30 billion, giving companies the rare opportunity to promote their brands, logos and advertising slogans on a global scale. Unsurprisingly, protecting the associated IP rights was high on FIFA’s list of priorities, as Emma Jones discovers
The International Federation of Football Association (FIFA) is well aware of the need to constantly monitor and enforce its IP Rights, as the 2006 World Cup has shown. FIFA launched the event alongside a lucrative ‘partnership’ programme for corporate sponsors, and IP protection as part and parcel of that partnership agreement. Well aware of the risks of ‘guerrilla’ marketing, FIFA brought in a specialised ‘antiambush’ team, comprising trademark specialists, commercial lawyers and sports marketing specialists, to protect against non-sponsors seeking to cash in on the event by association. It also launched hundreds of legal actions around the world to protect its trademarks and copyright, and those of its partners, in the run up to, and during, the event.
The need to educate comes with the territory. On FIFA’s website, detailed information sheets specify guidelines for use of the Association’s trademarks and those of its partners, explaining why, not only how, to use the Marks properly. Journalists are asked to use the officially sanctioned titles for the event – ‘2006 FIFA World Cup Germany’, ‘2006 FIFA World Cup’ and ‘FIFA World Cup’, all trademarks – ‘correctly’ and ‘in strict compliance with FIFA’s Graphic Guidelines’. Use of the six official emblems (available in German and English), the official mascot, Goleo VI (offered as a graphic in three poses: ‘signature’, ‘juggling’ and ‘dribbling’) and the trophy, are also accompanied by stringent guidelines for use. ‘Incorrect use of the Marks, even non-commercial purposes,’ it reads, ‘may damage the commercial value of the Marks.’
But, of course, these are facts that IP professionals have known for years. FIFA itself was forced to wise up to the power of IP law after the 1998 World Cup campaign, in France, when ambush marketing by a non-sponsor obscured coverage given to the rightful sponsor, Adidas.
Back in the days of the first FIFA World Cup, sponsorship of the event was hardly on the cards; the first competition, in Uruguay in 1930, was a more low-key event, pitting the skills of 13 teams against the winners of the 1928 Olympic Games football tournament. Since then, of course, the FIFA World Cup has become a highlight on everyone’s sporting calendar (football fan or not), with billions of viewers rearranging their social – and work lives – to ensure they are able to watch as many of the 64 matches as possible, by whichever medium available. It really was only a matter of time before sponsorship became a lucrative source of revenue for FIFA.
The first organised corporate sponsorship programme was launched with the 1982 World Cup in Spain. Back then, the nine first-tier sponsors paid a total of $19 million for the exclusive right to affiliate with the World Cup; nothing compared to the figures paid by the 15 partners and six official suppliers of the 2006 event. Internationally known brands, such as Adidas to Yahoo! Coca-Cola, Budweiser, Emirates, McDonald’s, Philips and Toshiba are thought to have paid around $40 million (some saying up to $50 million) to join the programme. FIFA has had to work hard to protect their associated IP Rights. As part of its strategy to clamp down on alleged infringements, FIFA developed a worldwide Rights Protection Programme (RPP) in 2002 to concentrate on the protection and enforcement of the partners’ and suppliers’ IP Rights.
The need to educate comes with the territory. On FIFA's website, detailed information sheets specify guidelines for use of the association's trademarks
As the Association’s website makes clear, the most important function of the RPP is to ‘deter and prevent companies from using ambush marketing to gain unauthorised associations with the event’. To do this, it works with the trademark enforcement team to try to prevent or put a stop to any trademark infringement cases ‘where trademarks are being used in a commercial manner without FIFA’s authorisation’, including the use of their Marks on promotional goods, in advertising, posters and publications and so on, and the trading of counterfeit products.
What this means in real terms, is that FIFA has spent millions on anti-counterfeiting and anti-ambush marketing drives, working in close alliance with governments and customs and excise departments around the world. It seems to be paying off. During the tournament, teams were stationed at each match with the objective of minimising the impact of ambush marketing activities, and working with the local authorities to prevent such activities from occurring. A similar approach was taken at the 2002 FIFA World Cup in Korea and Japan; all in all, a total of 1,881 cases were processed in 94 countries with a 90% success rate, and over 3,100,000 products were seized worldwide.
The risk of ridicule
But one of FIFA’s most difficult challenges in the 2006 World Cup has been the backlash against their infringement policies and the agreements they have made with sponsors. Many have criticised the Association for overly commercialising the event and allocating too many game tickets to sponsors, as well as for prohibitive actions against non-sponsor advertising in the stadiums – often to the point of ridicule.
Although perfectly justified in theory, many read with incredulity that FIFA had ordered hundreds of Dutch fans to take off their trousers before entering the stadium for their country’s World Cup match against Ivory Coast in June. The fans were wearing lederhosen in the Dutch team’s orange colour, but bearing the slogans and logo of Dutch brewery Bavaria which was not one of the World Cup official sponsors. ‘The idea of hundreds of fans removing their trousers is always potentially amusing, and our suspicion is that trousers were chosen as an ambush tool specifically because of the publicity that fans taking them off would generate,’ FIFA spokesman Tom Houseman told the BBC News website. He was probably right.
Likewise, the crackdown has affected the appearance of some of Germany’s best-known stadiums, including the Allianz Stadion in Munich and the AOL Stadion in Hamburg. As a result of the corporate sponsorship scheme, seven of the 12 stadiums used for the World Cup have been renamed FIFA WM Stadion, with all traces of the usual sponsors removed or covered up. Only those stadiums that FIFA deemed to not pose a threat to official sponsors were allowed to keep their names during the tournament.
Sponsoring the future
But with over one billion viewers are estimated to have tuned in to watch Italy and France battle it out in the 2006 FIFA World Cup final in Berlin, FIFA had no choice but to be stringent; an approach that looks set to become even more rigorous in the next FIFA World Cup. FIFA has already decided that this will be the last time so many companies benefit from being associated with the World Cup, after FIFA decided to focus on fewer sponsors each covering broader categories in the future. There will be just six sponsors for the next World Cup, to be held in South Africa in 2010 and they are already decided: Adidas, Hyundai, Coca-Cola, Sony, Visa and Emirates.
This article first appeared in IP Review, issue 15