POSTED: June 29th 2010

NEIL WILSON: FIFA teaches London 2012 how not to combat an ambush

THE NEIL WILSON COLUMN / An authoritative, exclusive series only from Sports Features Communication

LONDON, Jun 30: When Lord Coe, chairman of LOCOG, next runs into Sepp Blatter, president of FIFA, he will owe him a large drink. And, to be safe, he better make it a Budweiser.

“I am sorry it happened at another sporting event but I was glad it was not mine. It was good to learn the lesson,” Coe told me with a rueful smile.

The sporting event, of course, was the FIFA World Cup. The lesson learned was taught by the guerrilla marketing of the beer company who slipped 36 women dressed in orange into the Holland-Denmark game and stole the thunder of the licensed sponsor, Budweiser.

“We had a meeting when we sat down to look at it. The one thing I would say about an organising committee is that every day you learn something. We learned that we had to think ahead about how we would act in the circumstances,” Coe told me.

How FIFA and the South African organisers acted may not be a good example. Evicting the women from the stadium, charging two with a criminal offence – later dropped - and threatening a civil action against the Dutch beer company achieved exactly what the company wanted. It turned the spotlight of the world’s media on it.

Coe accepts that acting like Big Brother can have repercussions but what else does an organiser do when threatened, he asks.

“It’s a fine line but when you are dealing for people who are spending millions of pounds you have to protect them,” is Coe’s belief.

Exclusive rights

The London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games Act 2006 confers on the LOCOG exclusive right to use words such as games, 2012, gold, silver, bronze, London, medals, sponsor and summer, and bans specific combinations of those words to all but official sponsors.

But how heavy-handed should organisers be? “We have a very good legal framework supported by Parliament. Litigation is available to us but we were always of the view that we needed a period of education first rather than to jump straight to litigation,” Coe explained.

“Most of the issues we have to deal with are resolved by a telephone call or an email saying ‘you can’t do that’. And you know most people come back to say ‘I had no idea, sorry’.”

But security officers removing Pepsi from the bags of spectators entering the stadia? Or the wrongly branded chocolate bar?  It happened in Cape Town.

Or publicans warned against proclaiming “Watch Olympics live here”. That has happened already in general briefings by London. For certain it is a fine line. Crossed clumsily it gives sports sponsorship a bad name.

NEIL WILSON reported his first Olympic Games in Munich in 1972. He has since covered another nine summer and nine winter Olympics for various newspapers, including The Independent and the Daily Mail with whom he has worked for the last 19 years as Athletics and Olympic correspondent. He was Britain's Sports Journalist of the Year in 1984 and is the author of seven books

Keywords · Neil Wilson · Coe · Blatter · ambush marketing · Bavaria · London 2012 · FIFA

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