The FIFA World Cup™ is the world’s largest single sporting event reaching people all over the world. Key brand assets such as the FIFA World Cup Trophy and the Official Emblem are universally known and the great value they represent is the cornerstone of FIFA’s commercial programme.
Therefore, investing time and resources to protect the brand is of paramount importance to FIFA in order to secure the revenue streams which fund FIFA’s football and social development initiatives as well as its men’s, women’s and youth competitions.
FIFA’s intellectual property primarily consists of trademarks such as FIFA, WORLD CUP 2018, RUSSIA 2018; designs (both registered and unregistered) and copyright as subsisting in works such as the Official Poster, Emblem, Mascot and Look artworks. FIFA has developed and protected an assortment of logos, words, titles, symbols and other trademarks which it will use, or allow others to use under a formal agreement, in relation to the 2018 FIFA World Cup™.
FIFA is obliged to take action against any unauthorised reproduction of its marks in a commercial context. If FIFA did not follow up on any infringements of its trademarks and copyrighted works, it would risk losing its legal right and title to such works, thereby endangering the foundation of its commercial programme.
In addition, FIFA’s Commercial Affiliates will only invest in the FIFA World Cup™ if they are provided with this exclusivity for the use of the marks and for any other kind of association to the event. If anyone could use the Official Marks for free and create an association with the FIFA World Cup™, there would be no reason to become a Commercial Affiliate. This would mean that FIFA could not appoint any Commercial Affiliates and would therefore not receive the revenue required to maintain the high standards expected of the FIFA World Cup™.
An example of the strength of FIFA’s intellectual property assets is reflected by recent research in seven key global markets where the FIFA World Cup Trophy recorded an average recognition level of 83%. These levels are significantly higher than any other sporting trophies.
Prohibited marketing activities
Ambush marketing can be defined as prohibited marketing activities which try to take advantage of the huge interest and high profile of an event by creating a commercial association and/or seeking promotional exposure without the authorisation of the event organiser.
Such prohibited marketing activities can be of a direct or indirect nature. A direct association is established when a brand tries to link itself directly to the event, be it through advertising or promotions such as ticket giveaways, use of the tournament designations, etc. An indirect association aims to achieve an association with the event without making a direct link, often implementing creative campaigns aimed at achieving a link to the event. Marketing activities by non-sponsor companies that seek to take advantage of the huge public interest in the event through physical on-site presence can also be categorised as prohibited. The common denominator of such prohibited marketing activities is that they primarily seek free advertising.
The reason that FIFA considers prohibited marketing as a priority in its brand protection work is that it puts FIFA’s commercial programme directly at risk by trying to devalue official sponsorship. Companies engaging in prohibited marketing fail to appreciate that the FIFA World Cup™ is the result of FIFA’s significant efforts to develop and promote the tournament, something which would not be possible without the financial support of FIFA’s Commercial Affiliates. Ambush marketers try to take advantage of the goodwill and positive image generated by the FIFA World Cup™ without contributing to its organisation.
FIFA runs a global licensing programme which gives a wide range of licensees the opportunity to produce Official Licensed Products for the FIFA World Cup™. However, there are also companies that seek to produce items featuring FIFA’s Official Marks without purchasing the required licence. Such products are defined as counterfeit products. One way of recognising counterfeit products is that often they do not bear the correct authentication features that official products do (such as hang tags, official sew-in labels, correct use of trademarks, legal notice, etc.).
In FIFA’s case, counterfeit products can range from footballs to caps, from clothing to toys, and from footwear to miscellaneous items such as pins, keychains, World Cup Trophy replicas and other items that feature FIFA trademarks.
For the 2018 FIFA World Cup™, FIFA will be working together with customs authorities across the world to be able to use existing structures and know-how in the joint battle against counterfeit products. Once FIFA is informed of the production, importation or sale of products that bear unauthorised reproductions of FIFA’s Official Marks, FIFA is obliged to take corresponding action, including any legal measures at its disposal, to bring the activity to a halt.
It is worth pointing out that Official Licensed Products bear a quality guarantee in relation to standards of product quality, ethical business practices and working conditions, which ensure that practices such as child labour are excluded. Such guarantees also apply with regard to the materials that have been used to fabricate that specific product in comparison to counterfeit products that may pose serious health risks in the light of the absence of any such quality guarantee.
Protect the FIFA World Cup brand
The preparation for the staging of the 2018 FIFA World Cup™ began well in advance of the event. The focus here was not only on developing the infrastructure of the stadiums, transportation and the logistics of the event, but also on the creation of a unique 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ brand.
This brand includes the Official Emblem, Official Look programme, Official Mascot, Official Slogan, Official Poster, Host City Posters and more. From the early days of the event preparations through to the final dramatic moments when the Trophy is presented to the winning team, the whole event needs a strong brand that captures the essence of the event and the host country, whilst forging strong emotional links between the FIFA World Cup™ and fans all over the world.
In its role as the patron of the FIFA World Cup™, it is essential that FIFA protects the integrity of the event’s brand.
Guarantee a positive fan experience
Non-sponsor companies increasingly try to target fans going to FIFA World Cup™ stadiums by means of promotional teams, branded vehicles, branded items and onsite advertising, etc. These companies aim to obtain promotional exposure on the site of the event, and thereby to the billions of television viewers around the world through large numbers of fans displaying their brand. These actions knowingly play on the fans’ enthusiasm to wear fancy dress and exploit such enthusiasm for the commercial advantage of the non-sponsor company. As a result of FIFA’s brand protection, the positive fan experience of attending a FIFA World Cup™ match is guaranteed without fans being targeted by prohibited marketing activities, ensuring a safe and enjoyable fan experience around the stadium. It is worth noting that the marketing activities of FIFA’s Commercial Affiliates are subject to prior approval from FIFA, with the emphasis on enhancing the fan experience of the FIFA World Cup™ rather than excessive branding exercises.
Protect Sponsor rights
Due to the enormous cost of staging such a large event, FIFA would not be able to organise the tournament without the significant support of its Commercial Affiliates. They make vital financial contributions to ensure that this privately funded event can be staged. In return for this vital support, FIFA’s rights holders are guaranteed an association with the competition, especially through the right to use the Official Marks (e.g. the Official Emblem and the Official Mascot) in their promotions and advertising.
FIFA’s rights holders will only invest in the FIFA World Cup™ if they are provided with this exclusivity. If anyone could use the Official Marks for free and create an association with the FIFA World Cup™, there would be no reason to become a rights holder and as a result FIFA would be unable to secure the funding necessary to stage the event. Therefore, FIFA is obliged to act when non-affiliated entities do not respect FIFA’s intellectual property and conduct activities that commercially associate with the FIFA World Cup™.
First and foremost, FIFA tries to increase awareness regarding the Official Marks that enjoy legal protection as well as on the restrictions that apply in relation to commercial association with the FIFA World Cup™. To avoid “accidental” unauthorised use of the Official Marks/commercial association with the FIFA World Cup™, FIFA engages in extensive awareness campaigns to ensure that the general public, the business community, ticket holders and any other potential stakeholders have access to information setting out the regulations that apply in this regard.
Upon detection of an infringing situation, FIFA’s brand protection team assesses the most effective way of quickly bringing the situation to an end, without having to resort to disproportionate enforcement actions.
There are several elements to FIFA’s brand protection work that are aimed at identifying infringements of FIFA’s rights. For example, FIFA actively engages with customs authorities on a global level to detect shipments of counterfeit products. FIFA also actively monitors intellectual property registers across the world in order to safeguard and preserve its exclusivity to its brands and marketing assets.
One further element is the enactment of Commercial Restriction Areas (CRAs) around the stadiums that host matches of the FIFA World Cup™ and other Official Sites.
A CRA is specifically intended to easily identify and effectively deal with marketing activities that focus on the physical presence of non-sponsor companies in and around event sites such as stadiums. A CRA is not curtained by a physical fence but an imaginary line that is outlined on a map and included in local laws in order to provide additional legal protection against prohibited marketing activities around the stadium, unauthorised traders, counterfeit goods and ticket touts.
The impact on local businesses located within the CRA is typically limited by applying a “business as usual” principle. As a consequence, any commercial activity that is not specifically targeting the event or its spectators to obtain a promotional benefit should not be limited by the enactment of the CRAs. In fact, many local businesses around the stadium and other Official Sites such as bars, restaurants and convenience stores benefit from the CRA as it effectively excludes non-local businesses, including opportunists from other countries, seeking to cash in on the sudden increase of spectators at the expense of local businesses.
In return, FIFA asks that local businesses commit to fair play with regard to FIFA and its Commercial Affiliates in their activities that seek to profit from the high number of visitors without engaging in prohibited marketing activities.
FIFA’s approach to brand protection focuses on education and guidance, rather than enforcement by means of legal threats and sanctions. FIFA prefers direct personal contact to bring infringing situations to an end by speaking to the business in question, explaining why the specific situation is problematic and seeking cooperation in solving the issue.
In more serious cases, where there is a clear intention to take a free ride on the goodwill vested in the event and the public excitement surrounding it, FIFA may need to engage in court proceedings to halt an infringing situation and to claim financial compensation for the damages suffered. However, FIFA will not resort to such legal action without an in-depth analysis of the intention, scale and commercial impact of the matter at hand.
As the organiser of the event, FIFA holds all commercial rights to the FIFA World Cup™, its greatest commercial asset. However, FIFA recognises that football is a worldwide passion and of course FIFA is not opposed to businesses benefiting from the thriving economy surrounding the FIFA World Cup™ by using generic references to football. FIFA even encourages shop owners to join in with the celebration by decorating their shop windows and facades with generic football terms and objects. FIFA actively encourages anyone that wants to take advantage of legitimate business opportunities created by the FIFA World Cup™. FIFA asks that any commercial activities aimed at capitalising on the large numbers of spectators are fair with regard to FIFA and its Commercial Affiliates.
The FIFA World Cup™ is the most effective international marketing platform, reaching millions of people in over 200 countries throughout the world.
Investing time and resources to protect the brand is of paramount importance to FIFA in order to secure the revenue streams which fund FIFA’s football and social development initiatives as well as its men’s, women’s and youth competitions.
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