Sports rights and intellectual property
Intellectual property (IP) rights (patents, industrial designs, trademarks, copyrights, etc.) are usually associated with industry, usually the manufacturing industry. Intellectual property rights grant exclusivity to the intellectual property owner for a limited period of time. But organizers of sporting activities use IP laws to capitalize on interest in certain sports.
Sports activities began as a hobby or entertainment event to enable participants to enjoy sports or as a form of physical exercise. Now some games have become giant international events or more appropriately an international business with its own “specialized” law. Such international events even challenge the sovereign laws of states.
Popular games like football, golf, tennis, basketball, cricket, yachting, car racing etc. have become international events with a huge following, creating huge marketing potential for the organizers. The organizers of popular games like FIFA (soccer), PGA (golf), NBA (basketball), etc. organize and manage the events, usually international competitions, in such a way as to extract maximum value from others who wish to exploit the marketing potential that the events offer.
Organizers initially create a distinctive logo, emblem or phrase(s) to identify the event. If the logos or emblems are original, they will also be protected as copyrighted works.
As an example, the 2010 FIFA World Cup logo is protected as a trademark and as a work of art under copyright laws. Terms such as “2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa”, “2010 FIFA World Cup”, “2010 FIFA World Cup”, “Football World Cup” and similar derivatives thereof are also protected against unauthorized use and are subject to applicable laws in various jurisdictions.
As the logo/emblem/phrases (‘event identifiers’) are heavily promoted in the mainstream media, they are easily and very quickly associated with the event by the public and thus acquire a strong brand value. Event organizers then go on to leverage the brand value for other businesses.
Let’s look at the different revenue streams for promoters. The first line of revenue is sponsorship fees. This includes the right to display the sponsor’s branding in the venue/stadium of the games, the right to use the event identifiers on items produced by the sponsors, or the right to use the event identifier in connection with a service (e.g. banking, credit card (VISA) ), business process outsourcing (Mahindra Satyam)) or placement rights (eg a certain brand of luxury watches next to tee boxes on golf courses).
The second line of revenue is gate collection. Even here, the printing of tickets can be sponsored – the ticket should bear the trademark of the sponsoring country.
The third source of income is the exclusive supply of products for the games, such as footballs, tennis balls, steering wheels (badminton), fuels and lubricants (auto racing), etc. The supplier of the items has the right to describe itself as an “official supplier” to promote its items and to advertise itself as the exclusive supplier of such items. Ironically, although Adidas was the premier sponsor/partner of the 2010 FIFA World Cup, it was Nike that grabbed more of the viewer’s attention, whether through the players’ football boots or the clever commercials. Is this a case of bad sponsorship strategy from Adidas?
The fourth and increasingly lucrative source of revenue is the exclusive right to record and broadcast the event on television and radio, and possibly on the Internet in the near future. Broadcast rights are granted to regional and national broadcast networks. All copyrights in relation to the recording and broadcasting of the games are retained by the organizers or licensed to certain persons.
Finally, organizers grant exclusive rights to manufacturers to produce and sell mascot merchandise or products bearing the event identifier for a fee.
Organizers have a wide stream of income namely:
1. Sponsorship Fees
2. Gate collection
3. Exclusive rights to use the product in case
4. Broadcasting Rights
5. Merchandising Rights
In addition to event organizers, other manufacturers and service providers benefit by sponsoring the sportswear and game equipment of certain teams or players. Just think about the brand of the player’s shirt, shorts, hat, gloves, shoes, socks, etc. In South Africa, the boots of a non-sponsor brand worn by the players stood out just as prominently (if not more so) than those of one of the official sponsors. When it comes to race car drivers, have you ever seen regular driving suits? On the contrary, the driver’s overalls, including the helmet, are often plastered with an assortment of trademarks.
Even the refreshments/beverages consumed by the player during the game are sponsored using the full advertising value. Here, the brand advertisement is not a product advertisement like what appears in a television advertisement, but the trademark or product is intrinsically associated with a successful player. What additional persuasive message could be created if not for a world-class player using the advertiser’s product?
In addition to the promoters earning revenue as stated above, players, especially the top players in the games, often support sports-related and even non-sports products or services or businesses. For example, Tiger Woods not only endorses golf clubs, balls, t-shirts, hats, etc., but also endorses watches, consulting services, and personal care products (Note: He was later suspended/removed from the latter two following the transgressions you are); Maria Sharapova, one of the top female tennis players, recommends shoes and clothing, cameras and watches, among others; and footballer Ronaldinho has endorsement deals with Pepsi, Nike and Sony.
To make the most of revenue streams, organizers of major gaming events such as FIFA must strictly enforce their trademark rights and act against those who associate themselves with their trademark without the organizer’s consent. Unless organizers take strict action against violators, they are unlikely to demand high sponsorship rates for future events, let alone potentially breach the sponsorship contract.
Unfortunately, intellectual property laws are not designed for such periodic international events. Many manufacturers or service providers would like to be associated with such prominent international events that attract a television audience of billions, but either do not have the opportunity or cannot afford the fees and expenses. Thus, they try to associate their product/service with the event without the consent of the event organizer. This is where ambush marketing comes into play. Event organizers have a field day to take action against such traders. But whether an event or advertisement constitutes a marketing ploy is unclear under conventional intellectual property laws. To avoid this, countries, especially host countries, are often required to pass specific laws to deal with ambush marketing before they are given the opportunity to host the event. Britain had to pass the London Olympic and Paralympic Games Act 2006 before the 2012 London Olympics. The “London 2012” trademark is protected.
The next question arises as to how and in what manner the revenue received from the event, say the 2010 FIFA World Cup, is spent. Who benefits from the revenue? That will be the subject of another article for another day.
Note: Trademarks and designs mentioned in the article belong to their respective owners. The author does not claim any ownership rights; they are used for educational purposes only.
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