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Protecting Rights-Holders

Protecting rights-holders is necessary and advantageous in my opinion. Sponsors whose brands are aligned with the sports properties need their interests supported. Commercial sponsors expect their contractual rights to be protected. Exclusivity and the ability to activate sponsorship rights creates value for marketing partners.

Sponsorship management requires a coordinated effort. Protecting rights-holders from unauthorized use and infringement means that the account management team and brand protection specialists must work together.

The main focus of this article is the protection of rights-holders within sports venues. Here are five ways to support and protect sponsors inside sports venues.

  1. Enforcement of exclusivity provisions
  2. Balancing competing interests
  3. Preventing ambush marketing
  4. Controlling sponsor on sponsor infringements
  5. Preventing procurement conflicts

Protecting rights-holders outside the venues will be addressed in subsequent articles along with sports sponsorship activation.

Exclusivity – Sports sponsors are granted marketing and intellectual property rights. These rights generally include exclusivity for a specific period of time. Exclusivity can be limited by product or service category, distribution channel, and geographic scope.

This exclusive arrangement between sports properties and their sponsors allows them a reasonable opportunity to achieve their marketing goals. Protecting sponsors’ exclusivity is paramount. Without exclusivity and the ability to thwart competitive threats, the value of the sponsorship agreement would diminish.

Category exclusivity is a major enticement for attracting commercial sponsors. Rights-holders negotiate and often compete for exclusivity. Competition among prospective sponsors within a given category drives up the value of the sponsorship deal.

Balancing Competing Interests – Balancing the rights and interests of official marketing partners against others with a vested interest can be tricky. Competitors often use noncommercial parties to ambush commercial partners. There are preemptive measures that prevent this type of ambush activity.

Preventing Ambush Marketing – Certain forms of ambush marketing are lawful and quite clever. These are the most difficult to anticipate and prevent. Unlawful activity can be more easily stopped. Ambush marketing activity often involves third parties including those with whom a sports property has a legitimate association. These competitors may attempt to gain exposure inside the venue by associating with the participating sports celebrities, facilities and events.

Ambush marketing can occur among noncommercial supporters, participants, and even spectators. Using third parties to ambush commercial sponsors is a clever way for competitors to gain indirect association with a sports property. When done with malicious intent for commercial gain, the situation requires attention.

When no infringement or conflict of interest is involved, supporting those who support the sports property may prove beneficial. However, when third parties provide equipment, services or support to athletes, coaches, entertainers and other individuals inside the venue; make it clear that these non-sponsors have no right to brand exposure.

Sponsor on Sponsor Infringements – Sponsor on sponsor infringements involve unauthorized activity that usurps the rights of other sponsors. Among rights-holders there will likely be some sponsors that overstep their rights inside and outside the venue. Overzealous sponsors have been known to expand beyond the terms of their agreement. In doing so, as often the case, they inadvertently infringe upon other sponsors.

Close monitoring of all sponsorship activities is needed. This process starts by reviewing sponsor activation proposals in advance of execution. Simply instituting a formal review and approval process can prevent many problems. This will help avoid uncomfortable and potentially embarrassing situations.

Where mutually beneficial, use co-branding and cross-promotion to build strong relationships. Rather than working against one another, encourage sponsors to work together. Complementary products in noncompeting categories aimed at like audiences can make great marketing partnerships. Sponsors that come together in support of a given sports property often share common values and similar marketing objectives. They can gain synergy from one another.

Procurement Conflicts – When looking for the best deals, sports properties and commercial or noncommercial sponsors often overlook the importance of supporting each other. Harm to existing sponsors occurs when procurement policies and practices allow competitors’ brands to gain access and exposure within the sports venue. The value of exposure granted to official rights-holders is diluted. Most likely, this practice will also infringe on sponsors’ exclusivity arrangements. One way to overcome this problem is to conceal all non-sponsor brand names.

Another approach is to institute procurement policies that make it worthwhile to purchase products and services from official sponsors and suppliers. Provide official marketing partners with opportunities to submit bids. Negotiate volume discounts among supporting brands. Incorporate incentives into sponsorship agreements.

Summary – Support is needed from commercial and noncommercial partners. Where interests are aligned, both groups should learn to play well together.

Negotiate provisions within rights-holder agreements that contractually obligate them to prevent, report, and cooperate to resolve incidents of ambush marketing and marks infringement.

Working together, sports properties and their commercial and noncommercial rights-holders can protect one another and their collective interests.

Click this link to read The Role of Brand Protection in Sports Entertainment

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  © 2012 Anne Wall, All Rights Reserved.

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