There are only four days until the opening game of World Cup Qatar 2022. Notwithstanding the controversy surrounding the decision for the tournament to be held in Qatar and the many human rights abuses reported in relation to the construction of sporting infrastructure (See previous PILA Bulletin article #PayUpFIFA: The real cost of the World Cup Qatar 2022), FIFA has projected that audience numbers will be in the region of 5 billion viewers, well over half of the entire population of the globe.
Against the backdrop of the world’s largest single sporting event many legal issues are anticipated, specifically around marketing and intellectual property as the business of sport sponsorship means big business.
The World Cup brand comprises numerous IP assets to include the Qatar 2022 name, the World Cup trophy, official emblems as well as event mascots. As with previous host nations for events such as the Olympic Games and other major global sporting tournaments, Qatar has passed bespoke legislation to regulate and govern the intellectual property rights of FIFA and its commercial partners. The law recognises FIFA’s world cup trade-marks as well-known and protected in Qatar regardless of whether they are registered there. Aside from trade-marks, design and copyright may subsist in a number of works such as the slogans, logos, kits and broadcasts in various countries.
FIFA has a dedicated section on its website profiling its rights, including registered and unregistered trade-marks, designs and copyrights. This ‘Brand Protection’ portal includes a number of key documents and details of what is and is not deemed acceptable regarding the use of names and images associated with the tournament.
There are a number of official FIFA sponsor partners, including Coca-Cola, Wanda, Adidas, KIA, Qatar Airways, Qatar Energy and VISA. These companies have made significant financial investments in order to gain the exposure and goodwill that is associated with this major sporting event and, in return expect certain levels of protection and enforcement from FIFA. FIFA includes terms and conditions and guidelines to protect the investment and grants exclusive rights to their commercial partners and other licensees of the tournament. These exclusive rights include monitoring and action plans on counterfeit merchandise, ambush marketing campaigns and social media activity. The rights are actively enforced to prevent misuse and to protect the prestige and commercial value of the partnership.
Ambush marketing is an intentional effort by a non-sponsor of an event to create the impression of being an official sponsor, without authorisation and without the financial outlay of sponsorship fees. Such campaigns can confuse the public and take advantage of the media interest in an event to obtain exposure for their own products.
This form of marketing first became mainstream during the 2010 FIFA World Cup with Bavaria disguising Dutch models as Danish fans and revealing promotional attire once the match had commenced. However these tactics have long been employed for example during the 1984 Summer Olympic in Los Angeles and the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul where American Express and VISA led a number of ‘credit card wars’.
At the Russian World Cup in 2018, there were a number of campaigns highlighting Russia’s stance on LGBTQI+ rights by donating £10,000 to charity for each Russian goal scored. In light of major human rights concerns surrounding Qatar’s stance on LGBTQI+ and other human rights, it is possible that there will be more of these types of ambush campaigns during the event.
Numerous businesses seek to promote or advertise their brands without falling foul of ambush marketing, although it can be a fine line. A key issue for FIFA is that legal action itself can make the news and with social media, can result in significant publicity over and above what the brand would have originally envisaged. In the court of public opinion, the public can cast judgment before any formal legal proceedings have reached their conclusion. It remains to be seen whether the legacy of the World Cup 2022 will comprise a string of human rights abuses and vocal discrimination or whether, intellectual property issues aside the court of public opinion will be swung by the bright lights of big commercial brands.