FIFA in ambush flap

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"We always have concerns, but one of the things that I have to say FIFA is very strong on is their rights protection approach. There is always a concern and there will be other companies that are likely to want to do stuff. But FIFA are very, very vigilant and very strong on it. Some would say too strong."

Castrol's global brand director Des Johnson could not have possibly foreseen how right he would be, writes Simon Peach. Just two months after The Sport Briefing spoke to the man charged with the automotive lubricant brand's tournament marketing programme, ambush marketing has rivalled football as the FIFA World Cup's biggest talking point so far. The reason? FIFA's comical and farcical response to a gimmick by Dutch brewery Bavaria. The company's latest ambush marketing ploy saw a battalion of young women descend on Johannesburg's Soccer City Stadium donning orange mini–dresses for the clash between the Netherlands and Denmark. Unsurprisingly, much like the half–naked fans in 2006 (more of that later) the cameramen and women panned their lenses to focus on the 36 scantily–clad ladies dressed in the Netherlands' national colours. To the world it was a bit of football–themed eye candy, yet FIFA took exception to the stunt and ejected the women at half–time, arresting two on charges of organising " unlawful commercial activities" . Reported orchestrators Mirthe Nieuwpoort and Barbara Castelain were arrested in raids on their hotel and taken to a Johannesburg court, charged with breaches of the Merchandise Marks Act, which included 'Special Measures Regulations' introduced specifically for the World Cup. Incredibly only a call from the Dutch foreign ministry to South Africa's minister in the Hague managed to stop the authorities getting their wish of detaining the pair in jail coming to fruition. Nieuwpoort and Castelain were bailed on Rand 10, 000 ($1, 320) and had their cases adjourned until 22 June 2010, while a FIFA spokesperson confirmed it would look into " all available legal remedies" against the brewery. FIFA claims the women were involved in a gimmick intended to capture the attention of the world's media, thus breaking stringent anti–ambush marketing laws. Bavaria retorted that its mere intention had been "to generate pleasure and enthusiasm among football fans", and demanded that FIFA end what it called the "intimidation" of the women, whom the company described as "Dutch–dressed female supporters". Yet despite the hoo–hah, ironically it is FIFA that has got Bavaria's unofficial marketing campaign rolling with its focus on control–freakery rather than football. "Nobody would have known who they were, " said Adam Glass, partner at legal firm Davenport Lyons. "Obviously the cameras were drawn to this group of good looking women all in orange, but it is only afterwards that people then identified them as being Bavaria. I don't think anyone watching outside of the Netherlands would have known who they were, so they have been helped out in retrospect by other people and the whole press speculation about it. " Glass specialises in rights protection, enforcement and exploitation including copyright, trademarks and licensing. He told The Sport Briefing that the arrests seemed like "a bit of an overreaction" on FIFA's part and said that Bavaria's campaign was "not definitely illegal", although it could still be on unsafe legal ground. Despite seemingly having a small barely visible logo, the orange dresses were part of a gift–pack sold by the brewer and had been made famous prior to the tournament in the Netherlands by Sylvie van der Vaart, the wife of Real Madrid and national team midfielder Rafael. "FIFA would say they have used the very fact of getting these people in, if it's true, all dressed the same to grab the attention of the camera, " said Glass from his London office. "Obviously people are like, 'who are they? ', so starting the ball rolling about who they are and what they are. FIFA would say that is clearly trying to get some commercial gain from being associated with the World Cup. "He added: "Bavaria would say that is an incredibly tenuous link with having no branding, but it is not impossible for FIFA to show that some commercial gain has been made from it. And you don't just have to show branding at all for a commercial gain to be made. " Despite this lack of branding, Glass admitted that FIFA is on a "surer footing than might have been first apparent" and will rely on its draconian terms and legislation to push through its legal claim. However, he warned the feud looks set to be a tumultuous legal battle. "It will be interesting to see how FIFA choose to take forward the legal action, " he added. "They will probably have to launch proceedings against Bavaria in Holland to go against them. That would seem to me to have its own challenges in itself, but there certainly is legislation in place although it would seem far more difficult in Holland as there are jurisdiction questions. For example, whether any of the Netherlands' own rules and regulations conflict with FIFA's terms because national countries have all kinds of legislations that might apply to these kind of events, but, in essence, FIFA are pursuing this pretty vehemently. "Such a move is not surprising when you consider the amount of money riding on FIFA keeping its contracts exclusive. At the previous World Cup in Germany, Bavaria was again indulging in the dark arts of ambush marketing, but the Dutch fans it targeted were asked to remove orange lederhosen branded with the the brewery's logo by stewards at the the Gottlieb–Daimler–Stadion. Even if Bavaria did not learn from the situation, FIFA seemingly did which was indicated by the speed that it acted to protect its sponsor's interests. Sports fans in the United Kingdom can expect to witness the same measures when the Olympic Games comes to London in two years, according to Green. "It's a very interesting topic coming up the Olympics, " he said. "The legislation in the UK is quite draconian for the Olympics. The legislation is pretty broadly drafted for the Olympics and it goes into a whole load of specifics on what you can and can't do. What names you can use or can't use: 'London', or '2012', or 'go for gold', whatever it might be. I'm sure they will be keeping an on eye on this situation and if they think things can be tweaked I'm sure they will be talking about it at LOCOG (London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games). I suspect they might not, but who knows? They have been pretty tough so far. "Much like FIFA, the International Olympic Committee goes to great lengths to clamp down on ambush marketing to protect sponsors' investments. UK parliament has already passed legislation ahead of London 2012 and the organisers will now be even more wary heading into the Games. With the World Cup, tournament sponsor MTN stated before the event that FIFA had "certainly done its best within certain constraints" to prevent ambush marketing, while Soraya Garcia, director of global communications at McDonald's, echoed these sentiments, saying that "FIFA does a very good job of protecting its brand, assets and property". She added that the fast–food restaurant chain was "looking forward to having a positive experience in South Africa". However, it does not appear that fellow tournament sponsor Budweiser has been afforded the same luxury. Despite forking out millions upon millions for its exclusive status as official beer of the World Cup, it has been gazumped in terms of media exposure by Bavaria. Much like in this article, Bavaria's ambush marketing has turned Budweiser into a mere tagline and has threatened FIFA's exclusive deal structure. Football's world governing body always admitted it would be challenged by preventing fans being used as "walking advertisements", but even it could not have foreseen the current furore that is engulfing the tournament. Whilst FIFA may praise the South African authorities for taking "explicit action", it has shown itself to be officious, incongruous and heavy–handed. That is something sponsors – official or not – would not be too keen to be associated with. About The Sport Briefing This story has been reproduced with the kind permission of The Sport Briefing. The Sport Briefing is published by PA Sport and can be found at: www. thesportbriefing. comSubscribers to Major Events International can take advantage ofexcellent discounted rates for The Sport Briefing. 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