Posted by John Beech on June 17, 2010
My third World Cup posting has resonances much nearer to home; just bear with me.
Ambush marketing – the piggy-backing of events by companies who are not official sponsors (there is an excellent overview of the phenomenon in sports events here) – hit the news at the last World Cup, with Bavaria, the Dutch lager producer, engineering the celebrated orange lederhosen stunt (1 if you are unfamiliar with this).
Bavaria (see, more free publicity – which I regret, but it’s too contrived to write ‘ a certain Dutch beer manufacturer) have capped that incident in spite of FIFA’s best endeavours to protect the official World Cup beer sponsor (am I alone in thinking that is in itself just a tad absurd?), Budweiser. Forty women sitting together in orange minidresses became this World Cup’s version of lederhosen (2, and for the prurient who find the incident hard to picture 2)
Bavaria have certainly achieved some success. A Google search on ‘FIFA world cup beer sponsor’ currently finds Bavaria (remember, they aren’t) squeezing out Budweiser (who are) from the number one slot.
The whole issue of ambush marketing like this needs to be seen from two perspectives. First, there is the need to protect sponsors against it. The case is a clear one from a business perspective. An official sponsor expects exclusivity in their marketing campaign, and pays for it. If the event organiser does not stamp out ambush marketing he is not providing what the sponsor has paid for.
The second perspective is how the organiser goes about the ‘policing’ of potential ambush marketing. Obviously prevention is the best policy, but, when ambush marketing does take place, how can the organiser best retrieve the situation? In a sense they are on a hiding to nothing – too little reaction, the ambusher will be encouraged to try again; too much reaction, and the ambusher will get additional free publicity. FIFA are in danger of veering towards the second course. They are pressing criminal charges (3), which is logical from their perspective, but this is giving the story legs (and bear in mind that we are talking shapely legs in minidresses), with two of the women on bail, with passports confiscated (4). The fact that they do not return to court until June 22 ensures that the saga, with attendant publicity, drags on.
It seems unlikely that the women involved were entirely dewy-eyed innocents. The stunt was highly organised, and has other ethical connotations as it seems to have involved the illegal sale of corporate tickets – ITV’s pundit Robbie Earle has already lost that job as a result, although it is suggested that he will not be charged (5). The saga has now grown to the extent that the Dutch Foreign Minister has weighed in, “describ[ing] the arrests of the two women as “disproportionate” and said it was wrong that they could face prison for “wearing an orange dress” to the stadium.“ She rather misses the point – it isn’t quite as simple as ‘wearing an orange dress’ now is it?
FIFA are facing a lose/lose choice. Go soft and the story will die, but sponsors will be reluctant to pay for sponsorship in the future; go hard and the sponsors will be happy, but the Dutch government will turn the two women into martyrs. The real problem for FIFA, however, is that Bavaria face a win/win scenario.
What strikes me in all of this is the rather surreal nature of what is going on. Understandable it may be from a business perspective, entertaining it may be, but should a major issue in football revolve around lager and minidresses? Bovril and flat caps maybe, but not lager and minidresses surely. It is just another manifestation of the incongruities that commercialisation has brought to the beautiful game.
The example of commercialisation, protecting sponsors and English football that I mentioned at the beginning revolves around the awarding of a 2012 Olympic football venue to Coventry (6). The surreal is summed up in the two opening sentences of the Coventry Evening Telegraph report:
COVENTRY’S Ricoh Arena has been chosen as the new Midlands venue to host Olympic football matches in 2012 after Aston Villa pulled out.
The home of Coventry City will be renamed the City of Coventry Stadium for the 2012 games and all branding will be removed from the stadium.
To Coventry people, and football fans throughout England, the newish home of Coventry City FC is ‘the Ricoh’. Pulling down branding (and of course putting it up again a couple of weeks later) will make no difference to this, although it may well see Ricoh looking for a better price when sponsorship come up for renewal. It has to be done to protect Olympic TOP sponsors such as Panasonic however.
Just a little bit hard to see how exactly the scurrying around on the roof of the Ricoh by workmen will be ‘helping to build a better world through sport’ though. Commercialisation and sport make strange bedfellows at times.