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Ambush marketing at major sporting events – are there adequate protective measures?

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Ambush marketing is a marketing strategy whereby a rival company attempts to create an association with an event that already has official sponsors, seeking to take advantage of the publicity value of a major event without financially contributing to the event through sponsorship.


What protection does the existing law provide to event holders in Ireland and the UK against its competitors from engaging in such activities?


Depending on the calibre of the event, special anti-ambush marketing laws and protected “clean” zones may be enacted and implemented around the stadia/venues to protect the event’s official sponsors.


These laws create an “association right” to prohibit and prevent ambush marketing. Despite these special event laws being implemented at events such as London Olympics 2012 and the Glasgow Commonwealth Games, recent event organisers of similar size events like the Rugby World Cup 2015 and the UEFA European Championships 2020 encountered significant resistance from lawmakers in creating similar laws. Lawmakers cite the availability of existing laws such as Trademark, Copyright and Passing Off as adequate to deal with any potential ambush marketing.


The question arises as to whether this is a responsible attitude by lawmakers towards official sponsors and whether the absence of adequate protection for official sponsors will have the effect of them being exposed to competitors undermining their investment, thereby potentially reducing the incentive for future sponsor investment. This is an area that will need consideration in Ireland particularly in the context of the current bid to host the 2023 Rugby World Cup. We expect to see significant development over the coming year and we shall continue to monitor developments in this area given the real commercial concerns arising for both event organisers and potential sponsors.


Eoin Brereton