Teresa Scassa - Blog

Displaying items by tag: sporting events

Ambush marketing took on major event proportions at the Vancouver Olympics, as many large corporations sought to create associations with the event without falling afoul of s. 4 of Canada’s Olympic and Paralympic Marks Act. Perhaps the cheekiest example was Lululemon’s new clothing line titled “Cool Sporting Event That Takes Place in British Columbia Between 2009 & 2011 Edition.” Ambush marketing was also in the news around the FIFA World Cup of Football held in South Africa in the Summer of 2010. The most notorious incident linked to that event was the arrest of Dutch women who had the temerity to wear orange dresses, supplied by a Dutch brewery, to one of the matches.

“Ambush marketing” activities have frustrated major sporting event organizers and sponsors for years. Such activities are seen to detract from the value of lucrative event sponsorships, yet they have been difficult to curb under trademark law or the law of passing off. This is largely because most ambush marketing does not make use of the trademarks of others, nor does it attempt to create confusion as to the source of wares or services. Instead, ambush marketing tries to benefit from the buzz surrounding a major event by creating an association in the minds of consumers between the advertiser and the event. Event organizers, on the other hand, view the goodwill associated with the event as a form of property.

In the last decade, major sporting event organizers such as the International Olympic Committee and FIFA have pressured national governments to pass legislation prohibiting ambush marketing as a condition of a successful bid to host an event. Indeed, legal protection against ambush marketing is now a requirement for a successful bid for an Olympic Games. Anti-ambush marketing legislation has already been enacted in many countries, including the UK, Canada, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. The statutes in these jurisdictions reveal an emerging “right of association”.

In a paper which should be out in the Sports Management Journal in the summer of 2011 (titled: Ambush Marketing and the Right of Association: Clamping Down on References to that Big Event with All the Athletes in a Couple of Years, PDF now available here) I survey the evolution of the right of association and discuss its key features. I argue that the need for such a legislated right has never been properly established. I also argue that anti-ambush marketing legislation is overly broad, does not reflect an appropriate balancing of interests, and may infringe upon the freedom of expression. In particular, the legislation removes the right to make commercial associations, however minor, with a major event taking place within a community. The laws do not just target major corporations who might have bid for sponsorship rights. They affect small local businesses as well, including those who might simply want to get into the spirit of the event that has transformed and taken over their community.

Published in Ambush Marketing

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