When Paddy Power commissioned their now-famous poster advert, they must have gambled that LOCOG would back down first in the almost inevitable furore that would be caused by the poster,and they were correct. For any of you who may have missed it, the advert describes Paddy Power as the "Official sponsor of the largest athletics event in London this year." The poster then reveals that the sponsorship is of an egg and spoon race to be held in the town of London in France. Article A5 of the IOC Code of Ethics says (under the heading “Dignity”) that “All forms of participation in, or support for betting related to the Olympic Games, and all forms of promotion of betting related to the Olympic Games are prohibited” (although I’ve struggled to find how the IOC Code of Ethics could possibly be binding on Paddy Power.) In my blog on 16 July I looked briefly at the London Olympic Association Right (LOAR) which is effectively a newly-created intellectual property right that tries to prevent businesses from falsely claiming an association with the Olympics. It’s the kind of thing that gets IP-nerds all hot under the collar, and I suspect that LOCOG may consider Paddy Power to have breached the LOAR.
As a bookie, you’d expect Paddy Power to have worked out the odds on the value of any financial penalties being less than the value of the publicity generated for their brand. I’m just a bit surprised that LOCOG made such a big song and dance, because anyone could have predicted that the amount of publicity generated for Paddy Power by the dispute would far exceed any publicity that the posters alone could have generated. According to news media reports, all of the posters are close to Olympic venues and nearby train stations, but that’s actually incorrect: as a result of LOCOG’s actions, the posters are now on virtually every internet news page in the UK (and probably beyond) and the story’s been reported by numerous national newspapers. Paddy Power and their PR advisers must be patting themselves on the back for a job well done.
Nike (not an Olympic sponsor) is apparently attempting a similar (but not quite as cheeky) global marketing campaign to coincide with the Olympics, aiming to steal the thunder from arch-rival Adidas (which is an Olympic sponsor). Apparently the Nike campaign will feature everyday athletes competing in places around the world named London but will avoid any use of the Olympic rings and associated logos, and will also avoid any specific mention of the London Olympics.
In another story reported yesterday, police providing security at some of the Olympic venues have apparently been told that they can’t bring foodstuffs such as Walker’s crisps and Ginsters pasties into Olympic venues unless the goodies are first transferred into a clear plastic bag not bearing the name or logo of a competitor of one of the official Olympic sponsors. You should take these stories with a pinch of salt, and LOCOG is claiming that the guidance given to the police was an over-zealous application of the branding rules, but the fact that anyone thought that this interpretation of the rules was appropriate just demonstrates how silly the whole LOAR issue has become. The sooner the Games begin the better.
So what do these stories demonstrate? To my mind there are two key lessons to be learned:
- no matter how clever you think your drafting is, there’ll always be someone who tries, and sometimes succeeds, in finding a clever way round it. Whether you were the statutory draftsman who lovingly crafted The London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games Act 2006 or the lawyer who drafted a supposedly tightly-worded shareholders’ agreement for a new start-up company, the chances are that at some point, human ingenuity will be deployed to try and scupper your good intentions; and
- even if you find yourself with a legally enforceable right (such as the right to oblige Paddy Power to take down its posters, assuming LOCOG did have the right), there may well be good commercial reasons for not enforcing your right, no matter how much it may stick in your throat.
Nick Buckles must be mightily relieved that these stories have taken some of the media heat off G4S’s shortcomings. I wonder whether he’ll be present at the opening ceremony this evening or whether the army will refuse him entry. That would be ironic. The whole thing’s enough to make you want to don a pair of Nikes, make up a picnic consisting of Pepsi, Walker’s crisps and Ginsters pasties (as well as the odd pork pie, obviously) and then place a bet with Paddy Power on how long it will take before you and your picnic are unceremoniously ejected (by the army, not by G4S) from Danny Boyle’s Olympic extravaganza.
My final thought, as an Englishman living in Scotland, is for the poor individual who’ll carry the can for the Korean flag debacle at Hampden Park on Wednesday night. As reported widely, the North Korean women’s football team was unimpressed and walked off the pitch when the South Korean flag was mistakenly shown just before the match against Colombia. It would be equivalent to the Scottish team playing a match in North Korea and having St George’s cross shown instead of the Saltire; that would go down like a lead balloon and Mr Salmond would no doubt demand independence (even if the mix-up did inspire the team to a 2-0 victory when the game finally kicked off).
This week’s competition question: if not Ginsters, who is the official supplier of delicious Cornish pasties to Sir Chris Hoy, Bradley Wiggins, Usain Bolt and co? Answers on a postcard please.