Friday, June 25, 2010

World cup sponsorship lock in

Football pundit Robbie Earle got sacked from ITV last week for passing on World Cup tickets to third parties, although he apparently didn't make any money from the process and paid for the tickets provided to him by ITV.

In 2006 FIFA expressed "disapproval" when world cup tickets allocated to FIFA vice president Jack Warner were sold on at a reported profit of £37,000 and then declared the matter closed. (Some newspapers reported the money made at £500k).

Unfortunately for Earle some of his tickets got passed on to a Dutch brewing company, Bavaria, who sent about 36 pretty young women in orange mini dresses (with no logo) to the Holland v Denmark game. The women were ejected from the stadium for "ambush marketing", questioned by police and threatened with jail. Bavaria is not one of the approved paid up sponsors of the world cup and presumably that means the colour orange is banned, in case it might be associated with an 'illegal' commercial interloper. It might be worth asking if any other colours require official approval before being brought into stadiums.

FIFA have history with Bavaria customers. At the last World Cup in Germany up to a thousand fans waiting to gain entrance to stadium for the Holland v Ivory Coast game were made to remove their orange (this time logoed, I believe) trousers before being allowed in.

FIFA says:
"In the world of football, fair play is a principle that has an important role to play both on and off the pitch. The beautiful game's incredible success story, particularly in terms of the FIFA World Cup ™, not only attracts fans and official partners, but also the ambush marketing activities of companies seeking to secure themselves a slice of the rewards illicitly without offering any financial support in return, thus jeopardising the viability of organising a privately financed sporting event of the magnitude of the FIFA World Cup with its cumulative worldwide TV audiences of over 26 billion...
FIFA itself decides if infringements are to be pursued and determines the appropriate way to do so. Before and during the 2006 FIFA World Cup ™, inaccurate reports frequently appeared in the media claiming that the sale of World Cup buns or World Cup bread by small local bakers was outlawed by FIFA and that the governing body was taking vigorous action against each and every infringement. These reports were, of course, complete nonsense, because there were no instances of FIFA taking such steps against a small business. In fact, FIFA's primary objective is to put a stop to the systematic, commercial abuse of its event marks on a wide scale in order to safeguard the rights of its partners. "
The commercial rights protectionism that resulted in the detention of the women at the Holland v Denmark game just seems wrong, more so in a country where most of the indigenous population can't even afford the cheapest tickets to see the matches. But South Africa passed a law in the run up to the World Cup that made ambush marketing a criminal offence.  That's right, creative one-upmanship against a commercial competitor (Budweiser, I guess, in Bacaria's case) that happens to have forked out sponsorship money to FIFA is a crime.

Commercial sponsors and FIFA want their pound of flesh and associated rights protection but when it is excessively enforced by the host nation's police authorities, and there are similar plans to do so at the 2012 Olympics in London, then a line has been crossed.  The criminalization of the act of gathering together 36 cheerful people in a football stadium is just beyond a joke.  If a FIFA sponsor has a legitimate legal dispute with a competitor then let their lawyers fight it out in the civil courts or through negotiation, not through the police and criminal justice system. 

As it stands the two women who organised the gathering of the 36 have had their passports confiscated and are now facing jail terms. Robbie Earle has lost his job.  Ordinary South Africans can't afford World Cup match tickets. Jack Warner remains on the FIFA executive committee.

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