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Role of Brand Protection in Sports Entertainment


The Role of Brand Protection in Sports Entertainment will feature many articles about sports brand protection. This is the first in the series. Although I focus mainly on sports entertainment events, these concepts are applicable to other industries and venues.

The role of brand protection is to ensure that there is no infringement of intellectual property assets or of exclusive marketing rights. These are assets and rights held by sports organizations and their marketing partners.

As part of this introduction to brand protection, I offer a few “Guiding Principles.” These self imposed principles served me well throughout my years as Brand Protection Manager with the Salt Lake Organizing Committee for the 2002 Winter Olympic Games, and later when I served as Brand Protection Advisor to the International Olympic Committee and the International Paralympic Committee.

Guiding Principles

  1. Prevention is the best deterrent.
  2. Resolve matters at the lowest applicable level of enforcement in a responsible and appropriate manner.
  3. Never take inappropriate action to thwart competitive practices.
  4. Work within the law. Do not threaten or intimidate. Exercise legal rights.
  5. Draw public attention to the worst offenders to help deter others.
  6. Enhance spectator enjoyment and experience of the event by being friendly and helpful when enforcing brand protection policies.

The brand protection process can be divided into six phases as shown in the above diagram and in the list below.

Brand Protection Phases

  1. Prevention
  2. Surveillance
  3. Reporting
  4. Incident Assessment & Management
  5. Investigation
  6. Enforcement

There are several aspects of brand protection that involve corporate marketing partners. The first aspect is prevention. Prevention includes trademark registration, contract negotiation and establishing written guidelines for protected marks use. Educating marketing and other constituent partners about ambush marketing is an important aspect of prevention.

Any attempt to create a false association with a sports property or brand may be viewed as “ambush marketing.” Ambush marketing interferes with the marketing rights of official sponsors. There are legal and illegal methods of ambush. Both methods are harmful because they undermine the ability of official rights-holders to benefit from their marketing investments. Whether the unauthorized association is through an implied sponsorship, a false association, or direct infringement; it diminishes the value of the sponsorship and the sports property’s ability to generate revenue.

When it comes to ambush marketing, there are intentional and unintentional players. It may be easy to take advantage of unsuspecting participants with good intentions, such as athletes. Anyone with a role in the event presents a brand protection concern.

Ambush marketers are notoriously clever at working through noncommercial entities with any official role in the event. Unfortunately, this practice is not an uncommon. Without malice or conscious intent, many unsuspecting players become party to ambush marketing schemes. This is why it’s important to work closely with the noncommercial organizations involved with an event. Depending on the nature and scope of the sporting event; noncommercial partners could include amateur sports teams, sports governing bodies, venue operators, government agencies and educational institutions, just to name a few. Brand protection often entails balancing the competing interests of commercial and noncommercial partners. Contractual and good working relationships will help prevent unintended consequences.

Competitors find ingenious ways to ambush official sponsors. They are very clever. Some tactics are so absurd they are actually funny. (For more information download my article “The Game Behind The Games” available at http://scholarship.law.marquette.edu/sportslaw/vol12/iss2/3/.)

In addition to prevention, protecting official partners against ambush marketing and marks infringement entails surveillance, reporting, incident assessment and management of alleged incidents of trademark infringement. This can be a real challenge for brand protection specialists.

Once an alleged incident has been reported, it is incumbent upon the trademark owner or rights-holder to investigate and respond in a measured and appropriate manner. The appropriateness of the response can be influenced by a number of factors. For example, was the incident in question intentional and malicious, or perhaps unintentional with no commercial gain? What, if any, damage occurred as a result of the infringement? The response depends on the nature and severity of the incident, and the answers to questions uncovered in the investigation.

Negotiation, education, communication and registration are prevention methods that help deter ambush marketing and trademark infringement. A brand protection program with an emphasis on prevention will be more successful than one that deals primarily with enforcement and legal matters after the fact.

 Watch for more articles about the “Role of Brand Protection in Sports Entertainment.”

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