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Objectives of sport sponsorship and the threat of ambush marketing

The objectives of sport sponsorship are multiple. An important one in a harsh business setting is to meet any competitive threats in the sense of taking advantage of sponsorship opportunities and exploiting these opportunities to stop competitors from reaching out for the same opportunities. Still, meeting this objective may not be enough as competitors engaging in ‘ambush marketing’ may end up seeing positive ‘brand transfers’ from their attempts to ‘creatively’ associate themselves with powerful sports brands without paying to be an official commercial partner.


Therefore, property rights holders in sports often consider the negative effects of ambush marketing as it diminishes the value associated with these rights. Therefore, sport organizations selling the rights have made precautions to prevent ambush marketing ‘stronger’. This is seen this in relation to IOC, FIFA, UEFA, and other sport governing bodies safeguarding their valuable commercial assets, i.e. the association with their brands. CNBC  refers to a well-known example of ambush marketing related to the Olympic Games, cf.:


“The classic case of ‘ambush marketing’ was in Atlanta, Georgia for the 1996 Summer Games. Nike plastered the city with billboards and handed out Nike flags for attendees to wave at the games. When all was said and done, many people thought Nike was the official sponsor, when in fact, it was Reebok.”


One of the precautions initiated by the Olympic movement is Rule 40, which restrict athletes in the commercial endeavors during the Olympic Games as seen in London 2012, see more. In the executive summary, The London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games Limited (LOCOG) and the British Olympic Association (BOA) states:


“Rule 40 of the Olympic Charter limits athletes competing in the Olympic Games from appearing in advertising during and shortly before the Olympic Games. This helps prevent ambush marketing which might otherwise utilise athletes to create an association with the Games.”


Other familiar examples of ambush marketing include Paddy Power’s ‘underwear stunt’ when Danish international Nicklas Bendtner celebrated a goal against Portugal during EURO 2012. By showing a pair of green underpants sponsored by the betting firm Paddy Power, UEFA’s rules on ambush marketing was violated resulting in Bendtner being fined and banned from UEFA competitions (1 game). Paddy Power has also been involved in ambush marketing actions in relation to Ryder Cup in golf. During the FIFA World Cup in 2010, 36 Dutch female fans in orange mini-dresses were sent out of the stadium during Holland’s game against Denmark accused of working for the beer group Bavaria. Anheuser Busch’s Budweiser brand was the official beer brand of the World Cup and thus would see their value being diminished by the presence of other beer brands. Though, the objective described in this post and the last ambush marketing example illustrate the fierce competition between beer brands wanting to be associated with premium football events – see also this story describing the perfect fit between football fan culture and beer, cf. Carlsberg, Heineken, Budweiser, Amstel etc. and their involvement with premium football events.


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