Report: Ambush Sports Marketing Major Concern, But Many Have No Defense

September 28, 2010: Sports marketers who may never have heard the Bob Marley song, "Ambush in the Night" may now be taking his words — "Ambush in the night/They're tryin' to conquer me/Ambush in the night/Anyt'ing money can bring" — very seriously.

In preparation for the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, companies such as GE, McDonald's, Panasonic and Samsung paid the International Olympic Committee millions of dollars for the right to for exclusivity in their respective category.  In preparation for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, companies such as adidas, Coca-Cola, Sony and Visa paid FIFA millions of dollars for the right to exclusivity in their respective category. But at both events, companies not officially affiliated with the IOC and or FIFA were able to conduct marketing campaigns that, to various degrees of effectiveness, were able to attract the attention of consumers worldwide.

The art — or, as some would say, invasion —  of ambush marketing has become so prevalent that that companies list it as one of the worst problems they face. Yet, a new study from the Chief Marketing Officer Council indicates many sports marketers and sponsors "ignore or inadequately invest" in brand protection programs even though they believe trademark violations and property rights issues are undermining brand value and assets.

In fact, according to the just released report, Doing Away With Foul Play in Sports Marketing, many  sports franchise owners, event hosts, marketers and sponsors do not have brand protection programs, to counteract trademark trespassing, property rights violations and online scams, frauds and infringements.

According to CMOC, 72% of sports marketers and property owners believe sports sponsorships are a valuable and effective way to brand while engaging customers, with 15% indicating that sports sponsorships have always been a part of their marketing mix. Even with the ongoing effects of the challenged economy, only 9% plan on cutting back or eliminating their sports marketing spend.

FIFA stepped up its program to protect partners against ambush marketing in 2010 after finding 3,300 violations during the 2006 World Cup.The study reveals that marketers today are most concerned about ambush marketing, with 41% of respondents listing that No. 1. Second was the concern over counterfeiting and knock-off merchandise, named by 29%, just ahead of the 27% who said improper behavior by elite athletes and players is a top issue and the 26% who named online brand hijacking.

“The brand protection issues that sponsors and sports properties must protect against are changing,” Donovan Neale-May, executive director of the CMO Council, said in a statement. CMOC is a global executive group based in Palo Alto, Calif., which represents about 5,500 marketers in nearly 100 countries. “Sports marketers are using the same strategies and tools to protect their brands and IP that they were using when knock-off merchandise was the only threat. But as the sports industry grows globally, and as fan bases go digital, not enough brands are adjusting to the new challenges.”

Entering the 2010 World Cup, fewer than two dozen companies worldwide that legally have the right to use in marketing such terms as "2010 FIFA World Cup," "World Cup 2010," "FIFA World Cup," "South Africa 2010," "Soccer World Cup," "Football World Cup" and a plethora of others. In fact, the list of trademarked and registered terms is so extensive that even the book whose main purpose is to define the do's and don'ts of marketing, The FIFA Rights Protection Programme at the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa, advises:  "For the full list of FIFA trademarks in relation to the 2010 FIFA World Cup, please refer to the South African Companies and Intellectual Property Registration Office (CIPRO) or seek advice from an intellectual property attorney."

FIFA said that its list of trademarks was extended — and was even more heavily protected —  in 2010 after the organization cited some 3,300 rights violations during the 2006 World Cup held in Germany. That's a major concern for such companies as adidas, which paid $350 million for a seven-year deal (which expires after the 2014 World Cup in Brazil) to be an official FIFA top tier partner, supplying game balls and outfitting FIFA officials and refs. It also guaranteed that within its category only adidas can use FIFA visuals in marketing, that only adidas signage will be captured by media covering the event and that only adidas soccer balls will be seen during the month-long tournament.

To protect against these threats, the study, which was sponsored by MarkMonitor, a firm that works with companies to help protect their brand and indentities, indicates that sports marketers and property owners are employing a variety of new defenses. Some 34% run “genuine and authentic” marketing and merchandising programs to combat IP infringement, and 24% say they have employed some methods to "minimize the impact of these issues to reduce potential negative exposure." Also, 23% use third parties to gather intelligence on violations, and 20% actively pursue and prosecute counterfeiters. However, 26% do not participate in any brand protection programs at all.

"Some 26% of CMOs in sports marketing do not participate in brand protection programs and 25% do not have a brand protection plan for digital media ambushes."

Regarding the growing challenge of effectively protecting their brands in the world of digital and social media, 52% of respondents report they track, monitor or measure the use of their brands and 23% are developing a strategy to do so. Still, 25% do not have a brand protection plan for digital media.

“Digital media is a double edged sword for sports properties,” Frederick Felman, CMO for MarkMonitor, San Francisco, said in a statement. “The level of engagement with consumers and fans is a huge opportunity for marketers to boost awareness and grow their brand. But they are also facing constantly evolving online threats and need to have a plan to protect themselves.”

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