Lorenzo Litta

“BRANDIT’s Lorenzo Litta talks about ambush marketing and whether the current approach to large sporting events and sponsorship is sustainable

As yesterday saw the close of the Olympics games, and following on from our previous article about ambush marketing, we are talking today to Lorenzo Litta, BRANDIT’s CBO, about his take on ambush marketing, sport sponsorship and all things IP.

 

Lorenzo, thanks for joining us today. To kick off, why don’t you give us a bit of background on yourself and how you came to have such an interest in sport IP law and ambush marketing?

I’ve always loved sport. From a young child I took a keen interest in F1 racing and football in particular. But I knew I wanted to be a lawyer, so I looked for a way to combine my two passions. That is when I started to study sponsorship agreements and IP law. Through my studies, I became aware of the term “ambush marketing”. I remember in particular the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway, where I was fascinated to watch the big IP war between visa and MasterCard play out. Since then, I always love to see what brands come up with next. Sometimes, the creativity is very inspiring and often quite amusing. During this Olympics, where there have been no fans in the stadiums, it was interesting to see how companies were pushed to find other ways to jump on the Olympic band wagon. Brands naturally gravitated towards social media to push their campaigns, an area that is much harder to manage in terms of ambush marketing as the infringers can quickly remove the infringing content just as quickly as it was put up there.

Sometimes, the creativity is very inspiring and often quite amusing

Do you view ambush marketing as harmful?

Is ambush marketing wrong? Well, if a brand is seeking to gain an association with an event when they haven’t paid for the sponsorship rights, then legally, yes, it is wrong. However, it is not possible to give a simple “yes/no” answer. There is a lot of grey areas when it comes to ambush marketing. Each case must be viewed on its own and assessed whether it is worth taking action against.

 

How do you view the current sport’s sponsorship environment?

To be honest, I don’t see the current situation as a sustainable one. The main reasons I say this are:

  • Sport’s sponsorship is a crucial part of any large competition. Without the sponsorship money, the events would struggle to take place. That being said, the contracts for exclusive sponsorship are phenomenal and some companies just cannot justify the investment. With such tactics like ambush marketing, the allure of said exclusive deals is becoming less attractive. I mean, would you pay millions for exclusive rights when your biggest competitor could run a campaign that goes viral and then costs you additional millions (and huge amount of man hours) to take down; by which time the event has finished and the damage is done?
  • Secondly, the landscape for sponsorship deals is evolving. Take the Euro 2020 competition, 4 of the main sponsors were Chinese. Which on one hand is quite impressive for Chinese brands considering it is the Euro, but on the other it highlights how the European brands couldn’t afford the investment. Additionally, it was interesting to see for the first time in a major sporting event that one of the main sponsors was a social media company. This emphasises the growth in this “industry” and how they are now also wanting to play in the major sponsorship environment.
  • Thirdly, an equally large part of the funding comes from the host countries. These costs often spiral out of control and are widely over the original agreed budget. This can be hard for any local government to justify, even if is an honour to host the event and the prestige that comes with it.
  • Lastly, with the continual growth in social media and online in general, it is becoming more and more difficult to monitor and protect the IP rights of the sponsors and the event organisers.

Event organisers have tried to provide a more regulated arena to protect theirs and their sponsors IP, the Rule 40 that the International Olympic Committee (IOC), for example, but sometimes I wonder if this is going a bit too far. Do we want these events to be so regulated that even a local pizza restaurant that has been there for the past 20 years has to change its name because it has the word “Olympic” in it? This really happened in the Italian winter Olympics in 2006! If this is the road we are on, then I would say this is treading on dangerous ground.

 

What do you see as potential solutions to these issues?

Well, it is not so easy to have a one size fits all solution to all sporting events. However, the things I would consider going forward would be:

  • Making more stringent agreements with local governments – considering what is sustainable and what is not.
  • Review in general of the rules of each event – for example, something like the budget restrictions and approvals for additional budget that was introduced in F1 to open up the playing field might bring more equality and restrict huge spending.
  • Limitations also need to be considered – for example, on the size of the event, number of stadiums etc. We cannot keep growing competitions as we are – the Euros started with 17 teams and in Euro 2020 there were 32! It is not sustainable to continue with an unlimited number of teams and by placing restrictions on certain elements, budgets can also be reduced.
  • Better training and communication around events so ambush marketing doesn’t even get the chance to get its spotlight. For example, the Bavaria “beer ladies” at the 2010 World Cup, the camera should never have been on them.
  • Lastly, with regards to ambush marketing, sponsors and event organisers need to ask themselves, is it appropriate, is it worthwhile? Is it worth pursuing athletes or competitors for an ambush attempt? This decision is not necessarily a legal one, it has legal consequences, but it should be a combined decision between marketing and crisis management with legal input.

Final word, Lorenzo?

Look, large competitions will always be. As an avid sport’s fan, I would never want to see a world without them. However, we do need to review how we approach them from all aspects – organisers, sponsors, host country etc., but most importantly from the fans point of view. By this I mean that sports in general as well as sporting competitions, need to continuously review and adapt their systems to maintain their appeal to the new generations.

Thank you, Lorenzo,

If you would like to talk to Lorenzo on this topic or any other IP-related issue, please contact him here.

 

 

Q

Bio

IP business is fun and challenging and after many years I sail in it with the curiosity and passion of a child and with the knowledge and awareness of an adult.

Whatever is dynamic and in evolution takes my full attention, that’s probably why I love sports and speed.

Lorenzo speaks: English, Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese

Q

Bio

IP business is fun and challenging and after many years I sail in it with the curiosity and passion of a child and with the knowledge and awareness of an adult.

Whatever is dynamic and in evolution takes my full attention, that’s probably why I love sports and speed.

Lorenzo speaks: English, Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese

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