In just two days’ time, I shall be heading to the South of France for the start of the European Football Championships. I seem to be in the minority of fans who have sorted out all of their travel, accommodation and of course tickets – bought from the official source. The cafés and bars in Marseille on Saturday will be humming with the sound of football fans, as England prepare to kick off their tournament with a tough game against Russia in the Stade Vélodrome. Although the authorities will be on high alert for any flash points or potential trouble, there’ll also be a team of undercover officials who’ll be looking for traders selling unauthorized tickets and merchandise around the ground.
UEFA, the governing body of European Football, has a number of commercial partners; global organizations that have paid handsomely to be associated with the second-biggest tournament in world football. Companies such as adidas, Carlsberg, Coca-Cola, Continental and, erm, the State Oil Company of the Azerbaijan Republic will become familiar to global TV audiences during the next few weeks as part of the rights package they’ve bought. However, the risk of ambush marketing at such events is as much of an issue for the tournament organizers as the threat posed by traders selling counterfeit and unofficial goods around the stadium.
Two years ago at FIFA World Cup Finals in Brazil, there was an incident that saw a group of Dutch female fans arrested at one of the games simply for wearing matching orange dresses that the officials deemed to be promoting a rival beer brand (Bavaria) to official tournament sponsor Budweiser. The subject of intellectual property infringement is clearly a major headache for the organizers.
Undoubtedly, there will be vendors on the streets of Marseille trying to sell their wares. Some will be touting the modern scourge of football: the half-and-half scarf. These items are carefully designed not to infringe on any trademarks or IP, perhaps by avoiding the term ‘Euro 16’ or the England ‘Three Lions’ logo. Others will simply be selling fakes, such as low quality replicas of the official Nike England shirt. These are readily available on websites such as www.taobao for as little as £5; the real deal will cost in the region of £60.
Some fans will be heading to France without a ticket for the big game, hoping that the streets of Marseille will be paved with gold. Demand for tickets has far outstripped supply, meaning that some fans will be prepared to knowingly take a risk by paying significant amounts of money in advance (and hoping the tickets materialize before 9pm on Saturday night) or even buying fake tickets in the hope that they’ll get into the stadium in the crowds close to kick-off time.
The authorities will have a tough job ensuring that the tournament passes off in a safe and sporting manner. Whilst, quite rightly, there’ll be a huge focus on safety and security around the cities involved in the tournament, that doesn’t mean those who’ll try to profit from IP abuse will go unnoticed. There’s no place for intellectual infringers at the championships, so the authorities will have to do everything they can to protect the integrity of both the tournament and its commercial partners.