World Cup ‘ambush’ bears out law firm’s warning | 21 June 10

LAW firm Ward Hadaway is reiterating its warning against trying to cash in on the World Cup after female supporters were arrested and accused of carrying out an “ambush marketing” stunt.

A month before the 2010 finals started in South Africa, intellectual property experts at Ward Hadaway had cautioned companies against using the tournament to promote their businesses.

Alex Shiel of Ward HadawayAlex Shiel (pictured), partner and head of intellectual property at the law firm, which has offices in Newcastle and Leeds, had emphasised organisers FIFA’s track record of “robustly” defending trade marks and official sponsors.

This prediction came true when around 36 female supporters clad in orange mini-skirts bearing the logo of Dutch brewer Bavaria were ejected from the Netherland v Denmark game on Monday 14 June.

The supporters are believed to be part of a Bavaria “ambush marketing” campaign.

The company has previous form in this area, with over 1000 Dutch fans forced to watch a game at the 2006 World Cup in Germany in their underpants after security officials confiscated their orange shorts, which were emblazoned with Bavaria’s logo.

Football governing body FIFA has now filed criminal charges in South Africa against the company and two of the supporters involved have been arrested.

They are accused of “organising unlawful commercial activities”, breaking laws brought into force in the host country to protect the rights of FIFA and tournament sponsors.

Alex Shiel said: “FIFA have reacted so strongly because of the dangers such stunts pose to relations with its official partners.

“Budweiser have spent millions to secure the title of ’Official Beer of the 2010 World Cup’ and so be entitled to use FIFA’s registered trade marks such as the World Cup trophy and the official tournament emblem in their marketing activities, as well as have advertising rights at World Cup venues.

“Stunts such as that pulled by Bavaria threaten the value of FIFA’s relationships with sponsors such as Budweiser, hence the extremely tough response.”

However, Alex said that on this occasion, FIFA’s reaction to the stunt may have backfired.

He explained: “Interest in Bavaria’s products online has exploded, and with the story being featured in press reports across the world Bavaria may take the view that the stunt was a success due to the publicity it has received, and they will deal with whatever future implications may result.

“Yet the fact that the two supporters involved were first brought before a court specially opened during a South African public holiday hints at how seriously the authorities involved are taking this matter.

“Businesses carrying out marketing activities in relation to the World Cup should take heed of FIFA’s aggressive approach, and assess whether the maxim ’all publicity is good publicity’ would remain true given the tough approach FIFA has shown it is willing to adopt to protect its rights and those of its commercial partners.

“If in doubt, companies should seek expert advice on any potential issues rather than end up conceding a costly own-goal.”

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