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Doing Away With Foul Play In Sports Marketing
Yet over the 31-day tournament, brand protection issues stole some spotlight from action on the pitch. Nike’s “Write the Future” campaign outshone rival Adidas, FIFA’s official partner, with a record 7.8 million viral views in its first week online. Guerilla marketing ads from South African brands Kulula Airlines and Nando’s earned international headlines, as did the Dutch women arrested in the Bavaria Beer scandal. In addition to ticket scams and other trademark breaches, these stories will make marketers remember this FIFA World Cup for its implications on future sponsorships and intellectual property (IP) protection. Brands have long invested in sports properties to boost awareness, loyalty and fan support for products or services. Sports sponsorships and athlete endorsements give brands mass exposure and the ability to interact with particularly passionate fan bases, creating strong brand attachment, affinity and emotional connections with the consumer. The cross-cultural appeal of many professional sports has helped the business explode into a giant global marketplace with projected revenues of $141 billion by 2012.
The negative consequence of this growth, however, is that trademark trespassers have intensified their efforts to get a piece of the action. For years, counterfeit merchandise was the main violation confronting sports marketers, and brand protection meant physically tracking down knock-off artists and advocating the merits of officially licensed goods.
Today, Internet connectivity, mobile communication and the ability to deliver rich media experiences over broadband pipelines are creating an even larger, more interactive audience for sports content. But these innovations are also introducing new threats and trademark infringements at record rates. Online ticketing scams, brand hijacking, illegal merchandise sales, pirated TV feeds and the unfiltered dialogue in social media channels are undermining the interests of property rights holders, as well as the integrity of sponsors and media partners.
Brand sponsors and sports associations also face more frequent and increasingly clever ambush marketing campaigns by competitors. These marketers seek to capitalize on the media exposure and popularity of major events without paying the expensive fee for official rights. While growing numbers of marketers are attaching their brands to leading sports properties and franchises, they dilute the value of their investments by not implementing proper brand protection programs.
Doing Away With Foul Play in Sports Marketing is another global thought leadership initiative to help sports sponsors and franchises deal with trademark trespassing, property rights violations and online fraud that compromises their brands and content assets. More than 225 senior level sports marketers were surveyed across relevant industries for an assessment of how brands safeguard themselves and whether those measures are effective. This study also interviewed more than 20 executives from top leagues and corporate sponsors.
While the research confirms that IP and trademark violations negatively impact brand value and consumer trust, brands are not adjusting to the new violations made possible by evolving technology. A startling number also neglect brand security entirely. Consequently, sports marketers are leaving themselves vulnerable to brand infection and unable to reap the full benefits of their sports spend. With the amount of money invested in sports marketing and the opportunity to tap into passionate sports audiences, this neglect of brand protection is disconcerting.
After reorganizing brand protection programs to reflect the new landscape of property rights infringement, companies must also better understand that a strong offense is the best defense against violators. The research revealed how many marketers exhaust their budgets by becoming official partners and cannot effectively utilize the sponsorship. However, with their access to exclusive event content and IP, official sponsors have the potential to create a level of authenticity ambushers cannot replicate if they strategically activate their investments. Therefore, instead of blaming sports event organizers, hosts or franchises for not protecting their sponsors, brands must make sure to mount strong campaigns as the first line of defense.
Increased attention to brand security should also include becoming more proactive in defense. Addressing issues as they arise is no longer good enough. The most successful protection models aggressively work to achieve more sustainable long-term brand security by weakening the motivation to violate property rights at altogether.
Internally, or through third party collaboration, each of the properties regularly cited as the best protected constantly monitor the market for infringement and are willing to pursue legal action when appropriate. For example, in 1992, the NFL, NBA, NHL, Major League Baseball and Collegiate Licensing Association formed the Coalition to Advance the Protection of Sports logos (CAPS) to deal with trademark defense of its constituents. Since its inception, the organization has seized more than 9 million pieces of illegal merchandise with logos from its members, valued at more than $334 million.
However, while threat of legal penalty preserves brand integrity in the short term, merely punishing offenders is not a long-term solution. IP law cannot keep up with innovations in technology and digital media. Furthermore, it is impossible for the biggest global brands to keep an eye on violators all over the world. Sports properties that rely solely on defensive enforcement will always play catch up.
Rather, the most admired sports properties and brands have begun focusing on prevention and education. As leagues expand internationally and corporate sponsors launch global advertising campaigns, they are entering markets where legal infrastructure does not exist – at least at the same maturity as Western countries. Consumers, lawmakers and businesses simply do not have a developed understanding of rights protection. While this makes enforcement difficult, smart brands commit to IP education and the development of better legal frameworks. These companies are rewarded with new fans who can become loyal future customers.
Marketers have long understood the value of investing in sports. Now they must take brand infection dangers equally as serious and learn how to better protect their assets. Brands should emulate the NFL, NBA and other leading sports properties by investing in their futures and proactively attacking the source of the problem. Educate potential violators on why IP laws are important. Engage them in the process and preempt violations before they can occur. Only then will brands harness the full marketing potential of sports properties and events.
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