On 29 July 2016, the Federal Court of Australia handed down judgment in the case of Australian Olympic Committee, Inc. v Telstra Corporation Limited [2016] FCA 857.

The Court dismissed the AOC’s allegation that Telstra’s “I go to Rio” advertising campaign amounted to ambush marketing. The advertisements in question promoted premium access to Seven’s "Olympics on 7" viewing app, to Telstra’s mobile customers. This app streams live events from the Rio Olympic Games.

The case

Seven is the official Australian broadcaster of the Olympic Games via a media rights agreement it entered into with the International Olympic Committee (IOC). Exercising its rights under the agreement, Seven developed the "Olympics on 7" viewing app.

As permitted by the agreement, Seven also sold broadcast sponsorship and advertising rights (but, relevantly, not the Olympic properties owned by the IOC) to Telstra. As a result of its agreement with Seven, Telstra created its “I go to Rio” campaign and the television advertisements which are part of this campaign were broadcast by Seven.

The AOC alleged that Telstra’s television commercials, catalogues, authentication landing page, point of sale materials and digital materials misrepresented the company as an official sponsor of the Olympic Games in violation of section 36 of the Olympic Insignia Protection Act 1987 (Cth) (OIP) and Australian Consumer Law. Telstra’s television commercials were particularly scrutinised for their use of sports images, a rendition of Peter Allen’s famous "I go to Rio" song and a written message stating that Telstra is the “official technology partner of Seven’s Olympic Games coverage”.

Telstra for its part, hoping to resolve the dispute added the disclaimer "Telstra is not an official sponsor of the Olympic Games, any Olympic Committees or teams"

The central question before the Court was whether, on the balance of probabilities, Telstra’s advertisements suggested to a reasonable person that Telstra was a sponsor of, or provided sponsor-like support to, bodies and teams associated with the Rio Olympic Games.

Did Telstra’s advertising campaign infringe the OIP Act and the ACL?

The Court dismissed the AOC’s claims, finding that:

  • while the Rio Olympic Games “undoubtedly provided the underlying broad theme” of the television commercial, there was no express mention of a sponsor-like relationship, nor reference to the IOC, AOC or the Australian Olympic team;
  • the only use of a protected Olympic expression was in the name of the app "Olympics on 7", or in the context of Seven’s coverage of the Rio Olympic Games;
  • any ambiguity as to Telstra’s relationship with the Rio Olympic Games was dissipated by the inclusion of a prominent disclaimer;
  • the concluding message of the television commercial had been revised to make it clear that “Telstra is Seven’s broadcast partner”; and
  • with respect to the authentication landing page, the evidence showed that the IOC had already approved the substantive content of Telstra’s advertisement. This suggested that a reasonable person would not view the advertisement as creating a sponsor-like relationship.

The Court found that there was “little doubt” that Telstra wanted to convey an association with the Rio Olympic Games. However, in the circumstances, it found that that association was between Telstra and the "Olympics on 7" app, not an Olympic body or team.