It’s easy to forget that footy is a business. In an increasingly digital world where sports stars and teams are the ultimate social influencers, the businesses behind the teams have an even more lucrative opportunity to capitalise on the attention that their brand receives.

It’s not a new concept that individual players and teams accept payment in exchange for promoting a particular brand or product. However, competitors’ fear of missing out is bringing forth a surge in attempts at ambush marketing. Ambush marketing is the practice of trying to exploit a competitors’ exposure by attempting to insert the brand into the event. A prime example of this is running an advertising campaign which tries to paint a picture of sponsorship or association when there isn’t either. Major brands have sought to do this at events such as the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games, where telecommunications companies drastically concentrated their media spend on the Games where Optus was an Official Partner. To the typical observer, it may have seemed that there was more than one telecommunications sponsor at the Games, potentially eroding the value of Optus’ investment.

Ambush marketing has been used by having team players make a branded gesture or using a product in the locker room that is made by a brand which has not sponsored the event. A reported 8.5 million viewers watched the 2017 Toyota AFL Grand Final with 100,021 in the Melbourne Cricket Ground, which makes it quite understandable that brands who have been left out thus far are considering all options to get their message in front of millions of Australians in 2018.

It is in the best interests of both the teams and the sponsors to take steps to ensure that other brands are not able to get a free ride on the team’s exposure. Creating a strategy and establishing a thorough monitoring operation is essential when a brand stands to gain a tremendous amount of attention in a short period. Competing brands will seek to test the waters and possibly even see if they can run a campaign that aims to leverage the exposure from the event without being noticed amongst the noise. At the end of the day, if a team or sponsor doesn’t catch the beginning of an ambush campaign, it may already be too late to stop it. Nevertheless, there are ambush marketing methods that can’t be prevented such as Oreo’s ingenious ‘You Can Still Dunk In The Dark’ tweet during a blackout at the 2013 Super Bowl and the distinctive look of players’ Apple AirPods and Beats Headphones at the 2018 FIFA World Cup despite Apple not being a sponsor.

With the AFL and NRL Grand Finals coming up, major brands such as Toyota and Telstra will need to be vigilant to ensure they gain the maximum benefit from their sponsorship investment. There are many ways competing brands can attempt to ambush the spotlight, and the only remedy is excellent brand protection and intellectual property strategies for both teams and sponsors.