Ever since the first noted campaign at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, “ambush marketing”—where an unofficial third party attempts to associate itself with an exclusively sponsored event—has occurred in one form or another at numerous large events, particularly sporting ones. Unsurprisingly, Euro 2008 was no exception. The Union of European Football Associations (UEFA), European football’s governing body, did its utmost to prevent it from occurring in light of the estimated value of the tournament of 2 billion Swiss francs in media rights, tickets and sponsorship from Carlsberg, MasterCard and Adidas, amongst others. UEFA, which stood to make over £190m from sponsors out of the total £1bn from the tournament as a whole, deployed the largest number of staff ever for a UEFA event to police the exclusive zones and combat ambush marketing.
What UEFA did not anticipate, however, were the objections from the public and prominent local politicians. Euro 2008 was the first tournament to make “fan zones” brand exclusive. At the same time, UEFA conversely experienced a lack of support from the host nations in terms of preventive legislation and other measures dealing with ambush marketing.
Most companies will not consider any attempt to infringe trade marked brand names such as Euro 2008. However, some are more willing to use ambush marketing tactics during an event. This is a major concern for UEFA.
Euro 2008 saw a key turning point in exclusivity as lucrative sponsorship deals were extended to the fan zones—designated public places where fans can gather to watch the games for free on giant screens. Previously, fans could wear whatever they wanted in these zones. However, in this tournament, UEFA sought to ensure that this was not the case, by preventing free tshirts printed by unassociated companies from being given to fans to wear inside the fan zone.
Some considered this a step too far by UEFA. It has been suggested that, whilst restricting logos and rival companies’ marks or signs is acceptable inside the stadium where the match is being transmitted on television, it is excessive in the fan zones.
One of the most profitable markets for the organisers of any major football tournament is the sale of alcohol. Consequently, any brand that sponsors the tournament wants to ensure it has exclusivity. Carlsberg spent an estimated £15m to be one of six Euro 2008 title sponsors. A key aspect of most tournaments is that, unlike inside the stadium, fan zones can sell alcohol, making the exclusivity extended to fan zones extremely lucrative. The projected figures for the fan zones at Euro 2008 were six million users over the three week tournament. This, combined with the estimated 10 billion television viewing audience, to whom only official sponsors can advertise during live matches, makes sponsoring the event an extremely attractive prospect and one that Carlsberg wished to exploit alone.
Usually, exclusivity agreements have the full support of ministers from the host nation or nations. For example, UEFA and FIFA enjoy tax exempt status in Bern. However, the Swiss government refused to tighten legislation regarding ambush marketing prior to Euro 2008 as a number of objections were raised that it would only benefit the largest sports organisations and companies and therefore hinder competition for small and medium sized businesses in the European Union. The Swiss Minister of the Economy suggested that exclusive marketing agreements do not go hand in hand with host nation status.
Further, as a sign of the growing frustration with corporate dominance of these events, a number of groups sought to take advantage of the popularity of the tournament. For example, in Switzerland, supermarket Migros, which was not an official sponsor of the tournament, launched an “M’08” campaign as a clear reference to the football championships, but did not explicitly mention Euro 2008. In Austria, beer maker Ottakringer Brauerei AG exploited the discontent amongst the fans by selling beer with a red and white logo—the same colour as the Austrian flag—calling it the “official fan beer [for] real fans who want to show their support in whatever way they can”. Its popularity rapidly increased during the tournament.
Actions such as Euro 2008 organisers fencing off three bars next to the central fan zone in Basel because they refused to sell Carlsberg (the official beer) during the tournament, also antagonised smaller businesses as well as consumers. Unser Bier, a local brewer, attempted to challenge Carlsberg’s dominance of the tournament by running a rival campaign alongside it. Their slogan on t-shirts, beer mats and bottle labels, “Basel. More than only Calrsberg” (Englis h translation), was a pun on the city’s official slogan “Basel. More than 90 minutes.” Of course, the miss-spelling of Carlsberg was intentional.
Research released by the Centre for the International Business of Sport (CIBS) at the end of June cited 18 instances of ambush marketing taking place since the beginning of the Euro 2008. This included Burger King’s “red card” advertising campaign (McDonalds were the official sponsors), and Heineken’s branded marching band-style hats for Dutch fans to wear. The CIBS also published a report, Ambush Marketing in Sport: An Assessment of Implications and Management Strategies, analysing more than 300 cases of ambush marketing. Beginning with the first alleged case of ambushing at the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, the report catalogues the development of ambushing and its implications for the biggest events. This shows that ambush marketing is a global problem that affects every sporting event.
The Swiss government’s objection to tighter legislation is unlikely to set a precedent. The build up to major events, from the Olympics in Sydney 2000 to successive Cricket and Rugby World Cups, has indicated that host countries are willing to cooperate as much as possible with the larger sponsors as they recognise how valuable sponsorship is to the sporting event. Switzerland and Austria may be an anomaly, as they are amongst the minority of countries rich enough to host sporting events that can stand up to the sponsorship from multinational companies. Most countries desperately rely on large sponsorship to promote and run major events as smoothly as possible. Therefore, it seems only a matter of time before more safeguards are put in place to ensure this happens in the future.