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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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Finally, organizers of special sport events should consider the potential impact and implications that can be derived from a proven willingness to resort to legal action against ambush marketers. For instance, over the past few decades the USOC, while admittedly aided by the broader of the Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act (2000), has developed a reputation through the sport marketing industry for aggressively pursuing ambush marketers through legal action (McKelvey & Grady, 2004). This reputation often serves to dissuade potential ambush marketers from engaging in ambush marketing activity at the risk of being sued by the USOC. The proven willingness to bring legal action against ambush marketers has also benefited the NCAA, which directly attributed a decrease in Final Four-related ambush marketing activities to its highly publicized lawsuit against Coors. Although the case was settled, it enabled the NCAA to send a clear message to the sport marketing industry that it was willing to aggressively pursue legal action against ambush marketers. (S. Bearby, personal communication, September 13, 2004).

The deterrent effects of bringing a highly publicized lawsuit against an ambush marketer may seem self-evident. However, whether for reasons of lack of internal resources, the difficulties in proving consumer confusion, or the fear of an adverse court ruling, the majority of event organizers, and the major U.S. professional sport leagues in particular, have historically declined to aggressively pursue legal action against ambush marketers as evidenced simply by the dearth of lawsuits filed on claims relating to ambush marketing.

While the four overarching strategies examined in this article provide organizers of special sport events with some measure of sponsorship program protection against nonsponsors, the legal gray areas and practical loopholes that surround the practice of ambush marketing make it impossible for event organizers to ever entirely eradicate it. Ultimately, and ironically, it is the mere threat of ambush marketing that serves to benefit event organizers by keeping them vigilant in their efforts to protect the investments of their official sponsors.

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