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«Sponsorship Program Protection Strategies for Special Sport Events: Are Event Organizers Outmaneuvering Ambush Marketers? Steve McKelvey University ...»

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566 McKelvey and Grady While such ambush control measures may help protect official sponsors, they can run the risk of not only drawing negative publicity to official sponsors and the event itself, but also may alienate the very fans who are the reason for sponsoring the event in the first place. Thus, event organizers need to be sensitive to these issues. This delicate balancing act was highlighted at the 2006 FIFA World Cup when hundreds of Dutch fans were asked, as they entered the World Cup venue in Germany, to take off orange pants which featured a special lion’s tail (Sports Illustrated, 2006). A Dutch beermaker, Bavaria NV, tried to market the orange lederhosen with its name printed on it as an advertising gimmick trading off the World Cup (Heineken served as the official sponsor of the Dutch Football Association). The ambush marketing stunt was stopped by FIFA’s “censors” who insisted that the Dutch fans remove the pants before entering the stadium (Sports Illustrated, 2006). Commenting on why such an aggressive move had to be taken to contain the marketing ploy, FIFA spokesman Markus Siegler noted, “We are not going to tell individuals what to wear, everyone is free to wear what they want. But if we have evidence there is a company behind this, and 100,000 people are being equipped accordingly, and there is a visible ambush on the television screens, then we have to take action” (Sports Illustrated, 2006). Media scrutiny of the incident forced event organizers to defend their actions, which resulted in some spectators having to enter the venue in their underpants (Johnson, 2006c). One reporter noted that the incident “is evidence of the extraordinary lengths to which Fifa (sic) has gone to protect the interests of World Cup sponsors—at the expense of ordinary fans” (Ward, 2006). This incident highlights the challenges for event organizers in protecting their sponsors at the risk of potentially violating consumers’ civil rights and freedom of speech, and thus themselves becoming subject to legal action. For instance, are 15 fans attending an event wearing shirts bearing the logo of their employer (a nonsponsor) cause for refusing their admittance? Or is the threshold 50 fans, or 500 fans? The discretion afforded to event organizers seeking to implement such tactics indeed raises its own set of legal concerns.

Covering of Nonsponsor Logos In addition to policing nonsponsor activity in and around the venues, event organizers are taken an increasingly aggressive approach to the presence of any nonsponsor logos or identification in—and even on—the venues. For example, before the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, the IOC, upon realizing that food service company, Aramark, had supplied 30,000 uniforms to the food service workers with its visible logo on the chest, required that patches be placed over the logos in deference to official marketing partner McDonald’s (Payne, 2005). More recently, during the 2006 Olympic Winter Games in Turin, the IOC, to protect the exclusive sponsorship rights of computer equipment sponsor Lenovo, required that the Dell logos on news reporters’ laptop computers be covered with black electrical tape to conceal the Dell brand name (Associated Press, 2006). Even more bizarre, tape was placed over the brand name of the toilets at the curling site in Turin (Wharton, 2006)!

In an unprecedented move before the 2006 World Cup, FIFA, backed by the terms of its agreement granting Germany the rights to host the World Cup, was able to remove the corporate names of host stadia not named by FIFA official sponsors for the duration of the World Cup competition, including physically removing the Sponsorship Program Protection Strategies large outdoor signage in some cases (Wilson, 2006). Seven of the 12 stadiums were renamed the “Fifa WM Stadion” (translated, FIFA World Cup stadium). FIFA’s efforts resulted in each stadium being “handed over to Fifa in ‘neutral’ condition, with all signs of advertising and sponsorship removed” (Wilson, 2006). Such unprecedented action on the part of FIFA was met with opposition in some German host cities, with one FIFA representative calling the action “a culture shock” for many cities (Wilson, 2006). Having broken new ground in the area of sponsorship program protection, FIFA has already required that competition venues for the 2010 World Cup being held in South Africa also be renamed during the event (Webb, 2006). A South African Deputy Sport and Recreation Minister stated that “FIFA was within its rights to change the stadiums’ names to reflect those of its official sponsors” (Webb, 2006). FIFA’s ability to control stadium names is part of a more comprehensive 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa Special Measures Bill (B13–2006, 2006)). The legislation, which was approved by South Africa’s parliament in August 2006, “give[s] effect to the Organising Association Agreement between FIFA and SAFA and to the guarantees issued by the [South African] Government to FIFA for hosting and staging of the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa” (2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa Special Measures Bill, B13–2006, 2006).

Securing Commercial Inventory Securing the commercial inventory (e.g., advertising space) in and around competition venues is another measure increasingly used by event organizers to thwart would-be ambushers. Before the Olympic Games in Athens, event organizers spent 750,000 Euros clearing 10,000 billboards from areas in and around Athens (Gibson, 2004). Described by experts as “unprecedented,” the Greek government’s efforts to control advertising space before and during the Games “include[d] provincial towns and the areas along national motorways” and also applied to bus-side advertising and billboards on bus stops (Gibson, 2004). Commenting on the leverage that event organizers have over a host country’s efforts to control advertising space, one commentator noted, “Intellectual property rights lawyers say the IOC has managed to persuade successive governments to pass draconian laws giving them authority over advertising and marketing inside and outside stadiums because they are so keen to host the Olympics” (Gibson, 2004). This trend seems likely to continue as London and Beijing have already enacted measures to control advertising space during their hosting of the Games. In Beijing, for example, “organisers have promised to control advertising not only around competition venues but on all public transport, at airports and on the city’s streets” (Gibson, 2004).





Controlling Access to Ticket Blocks and Hospitality Opportunities The ability to gain access to tickets and hospitality suites at special sports events can provide significant marketing benefits for a nonsponsor. For instance, the NFL does not prohibit competitors of official sponsors from purchasing tickets to its pre-Super Bowl hospitality area, thus enabling companies like Coca-Cola (a competitor to official sponsor Pepsi) to entertain key retail clients and create an implied association with the event. Thus, another tactic event organizers can use 568 McKelvey and Grady is to prohibit nonsponsors from purchasing large blocks of event tickets or suites and access to hospitality opportunities. The NCAA is one event organizer who has implemented this policy. For example, at the 2006 Final Four, companies competing in product or service categories in conflict with official sponsors were “not eligible to purchase the tickets and entertain potential clients in the hospitality suite or at the game” (Rovell, 2005). The USOC also moved quickly to protect its official sponsor Visa upon learning that nonsponsor American Express was providing elite cardholders with poolside seat access to the 2004 U.S. Olympic swimming trials (Woodward, 2004). Obviously, supply and demand, as well as operational logistics, will often dictate whether this tactic is feasible; however, for event organizers intent on closing as many ambush marketing loopholes as possible, it is an important policy to consider adopting.

Establishment of “Clean Zones” Event organizers are increasingly using the host site bid process to ensure that host countries and cities enact special legislation establishing “clean zones.” Although ordinances establishing clean zones are publicly positioned by event organizers as a means of controlling excessive commercialism (and sometimes providing for public safety), the underlying purpose is to protect event organizers and their official sponsors from unauthorized businesses’ ability to engage in ambush marketing.

For instance, as part of the Olympic bid process, the bidding city must provide detailed answers to questions relating to measures that will be taken to prevent ambush marketing. Among other application requirements, the “Candidate City” must demonstrate that it has “obtained unconditional commitments from all public or private entities (e.g., government authorities, advertising space owners, etc.) within the territory, to protect the Olympic image and prevent ambush marketing” (IOC, 2004, p. 120).

The actions of the NFL and the NCAA serve to illustrate the use of clean zone ordinances at the sites of the Super Bowl and Final Four, respectively. These initiatives also often evidence the tensions between the interests of the event organizer in protecting their sponsors and the interest of the local businesses in preserving their property rights as well as freedom to engage in free enterprise and entrepreneurship. The clean zone ordinance enacted before the 2001 Super Bowl in Tampa Bay is illustrative of issues that arise when event organizers attempt to “cleanse” the site of all potential ambush activity. Despite opposition from a handful of local residents who cited concerns over “property rights and a stifling of entrepreneurship,” the Tampa City Council unanimously approved the clean zone ordinance to restrict commerce and advertising around Raymond James Stadium for a 13-day period surrounding the event (Goffard, 2000, p. 3B). Highlighting the importance of enacting a clean zone as part of the host city bid process, the City Council’s vote came after the director of the Tampa Bay Super Bowl Task Force reminded Council members that the city “promised the NFL it would create such a zone when it bid for the Super Bowl” (Goffard, 2000, p. 3B). The ordinance banned inflatable ad balloons, open-air cooking, and required vendors to operate out of stores or in approved tents, but did also set aside a “First Amendment Area” for people to assemble and speak out (Goffard, 2000).

Sponsorship Program Protection Strategies The issue of ambush marketing surrounding a venue also came to the forefront before the 2006 Super Bowl in Detroit. In November 2005, the Detroit City Council unanimously approved a temporary ordinance allowing building owners and marketers to put up signs that encompassed up to 40% of a building’s façade (the ordinance however prohibited the placement of signage on vacant buildings;

King, 2005). The ordinance was effective January 2 to February 10, 2006. The ordinance specified that 90% of the signage space must have a Super Bowl theme while the remaining 10% could include the advertiser’s logo and name (King, 2005). The NFL, in conjunction with Detroit’s Super Bowl Host Committee, had adamantly opposed the ordinance to protect the rights of the NFL’s corporate sponsors (King, 2005). The conflict between the NFL and the Detroit City Council illustrates the challenges that event organizers have, and may continue to face in efforts to create clean zones at the expense of a host city’s desires to protect its own business community.

The NCAA has been among the forerunners in understanding the importance of clean zones as a strategy for sponsorship program protection. The NCAA’s clean zone initiatives date back as early as 1999. After contentious negotiations between the NCAA and the host city of St. Petersburg, Florida, which sought to protect the interests of its local businesses, a compromise clean zone was established around Tropicana Field for the 1999 Final Four (Cronan, 1999). With each successive Final Four event, the NCAA has been able to use its leverage in the host city bidding process to ensure the establishment of clean zones. For example, the NCAA, working in conjunction with the Boston Local Organizing Committee, successfully negotiated for the city of Boston to enact a clean zone for its 2006 NCAA Women’s Final Four at TD Banknorth Garden. The clean zone included “the NCAA and WBCA headquarters, hotels, team hotels and the Hynes Convention Center that shall be free from temporary promotion and commercial activities” (NCAA, 2006,

p. 1). The document establishing the clean zone stated:

The clean zone is meant to address (1) unauthorized commercial activity on public property, (2) unauthorized activity targeted to the general public promoting a brand or service that extends into or is visible from public rightof-ways, regardless of its place of origin (public or private) and (3) outdoor temporary signage, décor and activity promoting a brand, product or service on private property in areas of high traffic because of the Women’s Final Four.

(NCAA, 2006) The document required that the City of Boston prohibit the following within the clean zone: “temporary, non-NCAA authorized banners, flags, inflatables or other promotional devices; temporary sale or complimentary distribution of food, beverage, literature or merchandise not authorized by the NCAA, and temporary unauthorized entertainment” (NCAA, 2006, p. 1). The NCAA provided the following as a guideline for determining what activity would be prohibited within

the clean zone:

A general rule of thumb to consider: Is the activity or advertising/promotion/ marketing in question within the clean zone meant to draw public/fan attention to a product, brand or service where a reasonable person might imply an 570 McKelvey and Grady association between the Women’s Final Four and the activity or advertising/ promotion/marketing, or otherwise benefit from the goodwill and intellectual property of the NCAA or the Women’s Final Four? (NCAA, 2006) Essentially, the NCAA was expressing its definition of ambush marketing.

Police were assigned to monitor the clean zone to make sure that companies abided by the ordinance. The NCAA’s clean zone document did, however, include the recognition that “there may be legal requirements to accommodate first amendment expression, including non-profit advocacy” (NCAA, 2006).



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