Marketing vs sport: easy to get caught out?

Home Insights Marketing vs sport: easy to get caught out?

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Contributed by: Joe Edwards

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Published on: May 05, 2014


For most sports enthusiasts (and a number of marketing agencies around the world), the focus is currently on Brazil. The FIFA Football World Cup is less than two months away and Rio is currently gearing up for the 2016 Olympics (despite the on-going publicity that both tournaments remain behind schedule). And, as with any major global sporting event, businesses are starting to engage in increasingly sophisticated ambush marketing campaigns, especially in the online and social media space.

But why is this relevant for New Zealand in 2014? Well, this week saw the IRB Junior World Championship, scheduled to take place around New Zealand from 2 to 20 June, designated a “major event” under the Major Events Management Act 2007 (MEMA). In addition, the Major Events Management (IRB Junior World Championship 2014) Order 2014:

  • identified the IRB as the major event organiser for the event;
  • declared the protection period for the event, from 22 May 2014 until the close of 4 July 2014; and
  • declared certain emblems and words to be, for that period, “major event emblems” and “major event words”. These include “International Rugby Board” and combinations of words such as “Junior Rugby World Cup” and “Tournament”, “JRWC” and “Host Nation” – further details can be found here.

For those familiar with Rugby World Cup 2011,1 the MEMA contains protections against ambush marketing by association. Those protections restrict, during the protection period of a major event, a person’s ability to make a representation (such as in an advertisement) suggesting that there is an association between the major event and goods or services, a brand of goods or services, or a person who provides goods or services. There is a presumption that a representation that includes a major event emblem or major event words suggests such an association.

Marketing teams and in-house counsel need to be careful when referring to, or associating their businesses with, such events. Our experience as the Official Law Firm for Rugby World Cup 2011 was that businesses had carefully devised their marketing campaigns (including undertaking legal review) to ensure they did not infringe the MEMA. Whether this will be the case for some of the upcoming major sporting events remains to be seen.

Hopefully this will prove to be the case for the IRB Junior World Championship 2014. And if rugby isn’t your sport of choice, it’s worth remembering that the 2014 Commonwealth Games has permanent protection under the MEMA, in the same way the Olympics does (which caught some businesses out during the 2012 London Olympics).

In addition, next summer will see the Cricket World Cup 2015 hosted in both New Zealand and Australia. Not surprisingly, the Cricket World Cup 2015 has already been declared a “major event”. The protection period has been in force since 20 December 2013 and will be in place until 15 April 2015 – an extended protection period to cover the recent qualifiers.

With other sporting events also on the horizon, the FIFA Under 20 Football World Cup in 2015 and Women’s Hockey World League Final in 2017 being two which spring to mind, businesses should ensure that their compliance systems cover compliance with the MEMA, as well as other legislation that could apply to future marketing campaigns, including the Fair Trading Act, the ASA Advertising Codes of Practice, the Gambling Act and the Privacy Act.

Before we know it, the All Blacks will be defending their title in 2015.



  1. Or major events such as the 2008 FIFA U17 Women's World Cup, 2009 FIBA U19 World Championship, the 2010 U19 Cricket World Cup, the 2012 Olympic Games in London as well as the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi.

This publication is intended only to provide a summary of the subject covered. It does not purport to be comprehensive or to provide legal advice. No person should act in reliance on any statement contained in this publication without first obtaining specific professional advice.

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