A large share of the income from major sporting events like the Olympics or the World Cup comes from sponsorship packages sold to large brands. For 2012, companies like EDF, Lloyds TSB and Adidas have, between them, paid hundreds of millions of pounds for sponsorship packages which will grant them exclusive marketing rights around the Games.
To ensure that no advertising activity by non-sponsors takes advantage of the event, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games (LOCOG) rely on existing trademark law, reinforced by specific UK Acts of Parliament concerning the rights of the Olympic trademark owners. The Olympic Symbol etc (Protection) Act was passed in 1995 with the aim of protecting the symbols and other representations of the Olympic movement. In 2006, after London won the right to host the 2012 Games, the London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games Act was adopted to protect signs and representations relating specifically to the 2012 Games.
Here is a look at how that legislation impacts upon specific areas of the Games’ intellectual property (IP) framework.
1) Trademarks and rights of association
As words and phrases such as ‘London 2012’, ‘LOCOG’ and ‘Team GB’ – and symbols such as the British Olympic Association logo and the London 2012 logos – are registered trademarks, their use in the course of trade is tightly restricted. These are restrictions within which marketing professionals work on a daily basis.
The 1995 and 2006 Acts each created statutory IP Rights – respectively, the Olympic Association and Paralympic Association Rights (OAR and PAR) and the London Olympics Association Right (LOAR). These rights to use representations in a manner that would suggest an association with either the Olympic movement or the London Olympics were conferred upon the official sponsors alone, providing levels of protection that are not covered in other areas of trademark law.
Those conditions are aimed at preventing businesses from taking unfair advantage of the Olympics for their own commercial purposes. The rules are stringent, but a sign in a pub window stating ‘Come and watch the Games here this summer’, for example, is unlikely to attract LOCOG’s attention. It should be noted, however, that LOCOG has indicated that a poster in a pub reading ‘X Brand Brewery; watch the Olympians live here’ would, in their opinion, infringe.
2) Ambush Marketing
A practice that particularly worries the Olympic authorities is ambush marketing. Since the 1990s, brands have sought to ‘piggyback’ on major sporting events like the Olympics and the World Cup to promote their goods. Occasionally such stunts can generate high levels of publicity for the ambusher.
The most recent, high-profile example of ambush marketing was Bavaria’s promotional stunt at the World Cup in South Africa last year. The Dutch brewery bought tickets to a block of seats at the match between Denmark and The Netherlands, and filled it with blonde women in orange dresses – their garments recognisable to the Dutch public as Bavaria-related merchandise.
FIFA authorities questioned the thirty-six women and arrested two of them. FIFA’s aggressive action against the ambush marketers – perceived as disproportionate by a hostile press – in fact resulted in world-wide coverage for Bavaria, contrary to the football authority’s intentions.
Although such stunts have previously succeeded in achieving widespread publicity, LOCOG is aware of the risks of ambush marketing and is enforcing the IP regulations in a manner designed to prevent widespread coverage. The London 2012 website speaks of a ‘personal approach’ to infringers of the OAR, PAR and LOAR – namely, a personal call from Lord Coe to an infringing company’s management. This approach intends to cause disquiet within infringing marketing campaigns, in a way that does not alert the press.
3) Prior arrangements
In cases where sponsorship for venues, athletes or teams is in place prior to the Games, specific arrangements have had to be made. For example, the O2 Arena, which will host basketball and gymnastics competitions, and the Ricoh Arena, which will host early stages of the football competition, are to be respectively known as the North Greenwich Arena and the City of Coventry Stadium, to ensure all venues are free of branding.
Branding for sponsors of national teams can be displayed on the team members’ kit, even if it is not an Olympic sponsor (Team USA, for example, is sponsored by Nike). However, strict rules control the size, frequency, location and appearance of insignia on team clothing.
Rule 41 of the Olympic Charter prohibits all individual commercial or sponsorship activity during the Games period; however, athletes and companies can apply for exemptions from the rule. These are more likely to be granted in cases where those requests involve athletes taking on sponsorship work for existing Games sponsors, insofar as those companies are entitled to associate with the Games.
Mike Lynd is a partner at Marks & Clerk