GAMES PEOPLE PAY: Olympics trading restrictions.
Alan Williams of Buss Murton looks at the restrictions on implying any business link with the Olympic Games
The 2012 Olympic Games start in only a few weeks’ time. At one level, these Games are about the top practitioners in various sporting activities competing with each other to see who is best, continuing a tradition that goes back to when Greeks were inventing democracy.
But the Games are also about money – lots of it. The London Organising Committee for the Olympic Games (LOCOG), is responsible for raising in excess of £2.2 billion to fund the operating budget for the Games, and the intention is that this money should come from the private sector. This is being achieved by encouraging commercial organisations to pay large sums to LOCOG for the privilege of having exclusive rights to associate their products or services with the Olympic name and logo.
The quid quo pro for making that investment is that our Government is expected to protect the exclusivity of these links. They are doing this by making sure that no-one other than the privileged (and rich) few make any claims of association with the Olympics, passing a range of legislation regulating what commercial enterprises can and cannot do in the context of the Games.
There are two main targets of regulation. The first is businesses implying association with the Olympic name and logo without permission having been obtained from the Olympic Delivery Authority – what has become known as “ambush marketing”. The other target is people actually setting up business in the vicinity of Olympic activities in the expectation that simply being close to the action will bring in trade.
Ambush marketing came to the attention of the world at large during the 2010 Football World Cup, when a group of attractive ladies turned up at the final of the competition wearing identical dresses bearing the logo of a Dutch beer company. This company was not one of the approved advertisers, and the company ended up being subjected to a substantial fine.
One can understand the logic. If Company A has paid a large sum of money to buy exclusive marketing rights, it is not getting value for that payment if its competitor Company B is able to get significant exposure for free.
The rules themselves are quite precise and technical, but also wide-ranging. They work by listing particular words and phrases that give rise to an assumption that the user is trying to piggy-back on something to do with the Games. Of course, there are going to be situations where it would not be fair to apply the rules. For example, Stavros at the Olympic Take-Away round the corner (“established 1973”) can keep selling doner kebabs without needing to change the name over his shop. But if he only opened his shop last year and it happens to be next door to the equestrian centre in Greenwich, he may be in trouble. It will be a question of degree and intention in each particular situation
In addition, various words and symbols associated with the Games are registered as trade marks – the universally-known five rings Olympic symbol, of course, but also the London Olympics logo.
The issue can emerge in surprising situations. There was a situation recently where a soldier injured in Afghanistan had to mask the Reebok logo on his trainers while he was involved in an Olympic torch event wearing the (Adidas-designed) torch-bearer’s uniform. The problem was created by the visual link between the Olympic torch and the logo – the soldier would be quite free to wave around his Reebok-labelled trainers in any other situation.
The other major area of restriction is the prohibition of unapproved advertising and trading in “event zones” during an “event period”. The aim here is to enable approved organisations to have a clear run at being visibly associated with particular Olympic events and at making money out of that visibility.
Of course, permanent establishments such as shops and pubs will not be prevented from continuing to operate normally. But public entertainment, for example buskers, and even canvassing for charities, both fall within the ban on trading activities.
The event zones themselves vary enormously. The whole area round the Olympic Park in East London, covering several square miles, is a single zone. On the cycling road race course, the event zone is simply the roads along which the race takes place, together with the pavements on those roads or 6 metres on either side of the road where there is no pavement. An event period generally runs from the day before an event to the end of the last day that any event takes place at the particular location.
The sanctions for infringing the regulations are stringent – unlimited fines may be imposed for serious offences, and individual offenders may be fined up to £20,000. So anyone thinking of making a casual reference to the Olympics in their publicity material will need to be very careful.