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International (Global) Strategies | Articles

Summer sporting events - IP protection

It should not come as a surprise that the large sports organising bodies of today rigorously protect their events, brands and trademarks, especially during major competitions. The International Olympics Committee for example is such an organisation and with the Summer Olympics scheduled this year, we thought it useful to take a look at how major sporting organisations protect their intellectual properties, and how businesses need to be mindful when advertising before, during and after the period of such events.

 By Paul Norris, Assistant Marketing Manager, Western Union Business Solutions

IP Protection-Sporting Event

The values and ideas that inspire these events are very appealing to businesses. Who wouldn’t want to align themselves with events that resonate with their corporate values and celebrate global friendship, solidarity, fair-play and human achievement? The dedication and talents of participants from across the world coming together to compete in harmony, aspiring to be the best they can be, watched and cheered on by an audience of millions across the many channels afforded to us by the modern world.

That is why commercial organisations are willing to pay large amounts to be official sponsors and partners of these events. Not only does the association bring unique advertising opportunities, but it also provides kudos and recognition to their own brands, setting them apart from their competitors and opening up new global audiences for their products and services. The revenue generated from such partnerships is exactly why the organisers go to such great lengths to legally protect that income by ensuring that other brands are not able to benefit off the back of it.

Not controlling the use of their IP could have a huge negative impact on corporate sponsorship. If unofficial associations went unpunished then the value of corporate sponsorship is diminished making the events less likely to receive the same levels of interest and revenue generation opportunities in the future. This is a serious issue for global sporting events many of whom rely very heavily on corporate sponsorship to achieve their funding goals.

When a brand attempts to associate itself or its products and services with an event, without having paid to become an official sponsor or partner it is commonly referred to as “Ambush Marketing”. This type of marketing can take many forms and is seen in a variety of ways such as increasing television advertising just prior to, during or right after an event, or using an event name, logo, image, or trademark without obtaining the proper permissions from the organisers.

Of course, not all businesses have the financial resources for advertising via T.V. but ambush marketing has become such an increasing problem that host countries of many global sporting events have introduced extensive legislation to protect their IP meaning that even well-meant and seemingly harmless local advertising could cause issues for a business unaware of the rules for that particular event.

For example, use of intellectual properties relating to the Olympic and Paralympic Games in any unauthorised way is punishable by law, and those intellectual properties include the Olympic symbol (the five rings), the Paralympic symbol (agitos), emblems, mascots, logos, reference to CITY/YEAR games' titles, images, sounds, mottos and even graphics and terminology that “bring to mind” the Olympic games.

So, if you are considering a marketing campaign linked to an event of this nature the key is to ensure that any advertising does not mislead people into thinking there is a connection between your business brand and the event, team, or even participants taking part in the event, when there is none.

Finally, it is important to remember that your company’s social media account is also considered a form of advertising. Using event hashtags or emojis or even re-posting or re-tweeting content related to an event could be considered an infringement and could lead to legal action from the event organisers. Use of official social media hashtags is fine for individuals, but if you are a business then you need to be extra careful as this can be regarded as ambush marketing, and result in action being taken by the event organisers.


It is best to err on the side of caution unless you are an official sponsor or partner of one of these global sporting events so:

  • Don’t use any official logos in your advertising.
  • Don’t use any trademarked words, phrases, slogans or mottos.
  • Don’t mention the location (CITY/YEAR) of the event.
  • Don’t use clever wordplay such as xxxx-lympics
  • Don’t use any trademarked or official hashtags in your business social posts
  • Don’t share, retweet, or repost anything from the event’s official social media accounts.
  • Don’t post any pictures taken at the event.
  • Don’t feature any event participants in your social media posts or ads (not even wishing good luck or congratulating local athletes or players)
  • Don’t post any official results (including info on medal winners etc).
  • DO refer to the events Intellectual Property Guidelines before undertaking any advertising activities.
  • DO take advice from your own legal representatives before undertaking any advertising activities.
  • DO enjoy the spectacle of the events as a private individual as this summer will be a sporting extravaganza.