As sports lovers worldwide eagerly await the launch of the 2024 Olympics and Paralympics in Paris this July and August, a complex game of IP protection is unfolding behind the scenes, as Frouke Hekker discovers.
The 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games is set to be a spectacular celebration of athleticism and global unity that is sure to captivate audiences worldwide. Behind the scenes, however, major sporting events such as the Olympic Games face several complex challenges when it comes to intellectual property (IP) protection.
Major sports events can be a battleground for brand exposure, with IP considerations shaping the strategies of both official sponsors and non-affiliates, and the Summer and Winter Games are no different. The 2024 Olympics represent not only one of the largest global events, but also a premier global marketing platform that enables brand owners to reach billions in over 200 countries. No wonder that IP plays such a significant role in protecting the tournament's brand and associated assets.
IP and the 2024 Olympics
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) employs a comprehensive IP strategy to uphold its rights, which includes trademarks such as OLYMPIC GAMES, PIERRE DE COUBERTIN, OLYMPIC, PARALYMPIC, PARIS 2024, LA 2028 and the Olympic symbol of the five rings, as well as various registered and unregistered designs and copyrights. The extensive guidelines contained in ‘The Olympic Charter’ control their use, stating: ‘All rights to the Olympic properties, as well as all rights to the use thereof, belong exclusively to the IOC, including but not limited to the use for any profit-making, commercial or advertising purposes. The IOC may license all or part of its rights on terms and conditions set forth by the IOC Executive Board.’
Official partners fall under four categories – Worldwide Partners, Premium Partners, Official Partners and Official Supporters – and include brand giants such as Coca-Cola, Visa and Toyota. These companies pay substantial sums for the privilege of using the Olympics’ IP and leveraging the tournament for marketing purposes.
IP and ambush marketing
On the other end of the spectrum, you find the use of ‘ambush marketing’, also known as ‘guerrilla’, ‘parasitic’ or ‘coattail’ marketing. This is a tactic whereby non-sponsors seek exposure during an event, through intrusion, association or opportunistic real-time ambushing, for example.
Previous notable ambush marketing campaigns at the Olympic and Paralympic Games include:
- 1984 LA Olympics – Although Fujifilm was the official sponsor, its competitor Kodak sponsored the television broadcasts and the US track team, causing confusion as to which company was the official sponsor. (Interestingly, Fujifilm got its revenge four years later by sponsoring the US swimming team when Kodak was the official sponsor).
- 1992 Barcelona Olympics – Reebok was an official sponsor, but basketball player Michael Jordan was sponsored by Nike. During the medal ceremony, Jordan covered up the Reebok logo with an American flag.
- 1996 Atlanta Olympics – Non-sponsor Nike bought up a substantial amount of billboard space around the venues and built a Nike Village next to the athletes' village.
- 2000 Sydney Olympics – By using the slogan ‘the spirit of Australia’, airline Qantas upstaged the official sponsor Ansett Air. The slogan of the 2000 Olympics was ‘Share the Spirit’, misleading many into assuming Qantas was the official sponsor.
These events lay far in the past and not without reason. As the Olympic Movement, including the IOC, relies entirely on private funding, particularly from the business sector, it has taken many serious measures to prevent unauthorised associations and safeguard exclusivity for broadcast and marketing partners. These include stringent IP policies to prevent such ambushing marketing stunts.
Can non-affiliates capitalise on the 2024 Olympics?
For businesses contemplating leveraging the Paris Olympics in any non-official capacity, there are some clear dos and don'ts.
- Don't use trademarks, logos, or images referenced by the event organisers without authorisation. Instead, get creative and utilise generic sports themes strategically.
- Don’t avoid the opportunity to make the most of the event. Instead, consult an IP expert to help you navigate the intricate landscape of unauthorised commercial association, including ensuring that promotions and posts on social media adhere to guidelines.
- They can also inform you of any specific protection policies that may apply in Paris, such as exclusion zones around venues to control advertising, selling, and product distribution during the event.
Find out more about IP and the 2024 Olympics
As the countdown to the 2024 Paris Olympics continues, the intersection of sports, marketing and intellectual property promises a thrilling spectacle both on and off the field. Brands must tread carefully through this complex landscape, balancing creativity with compliance to make the most of this global stage while respecting the rules set by the Olympic Movement.
To find out more, sign up to our dedicated webinar on 12 March, speak to your Novagraaf attorney or contact us below.
Frouke Hekker is the Manager of the Novagraaf Academy and Knowledge Management department.