As 16 teams prepare to compete on the pitch for the Euro 2008 trophy, companies are using the championships to battle for the hearts, minds and cash of consumers.This content was published on May 14, 2008 - 17:59
A few large firms have paid millions to have their brand associated exclusively with the tournament, but rivals employing so-called "ambush marketing" are challenging that investment.
Ambush marketing is the practice of using large events to promote products without paying the organisers. Once confined to a few rogue multi-nationals attempting to pass off as official sponsors, smaller firms with more subtle strategies have taken it into a legal grey area.
One hotel has decorated rooms in team colours, bakeries are selling football shaped breads, a clothing range has been designed for women uninterested in football, while the Migros supermarket chain has launched its "M'08 fan championships" campaign.
"It was a taboo subject until the last World Cup when more than 400 ambushers faced 20 official sponsors. There is no reason that ambushing should be illegal, immoral or bad guys against good guys," Achill Prakash of Swiss marketing firm Publicis told swissinfo.
European football's governing body, Uefa, has set up safeguards to protect their official Euro 2008 commercial partners, who are contributing SFr400 million ($382 million) to the SFr2 billion tournament income.
Lawyers rigorously protect patented brand names, such as Uefa Euro 2008, but the Swiss authorities have refused to introduce anti-ambush legislation.
Restaurants will be excluded from Fanzones – where supporters can watch games on a big screen – for selling beers other than the official brand. And people entering Fanzones or stadiums risk having clothing removed if they bear the unofficial logos.
"A spectator wearing a non-authorised logo will not have any trouble to get in as long as it's not part of a large scale organised ambush-action. We are acting with common sense and are by no means aggressive," Uefa chief operating officer Martin Kallen told swissinfo.
But such measures are over restrictive, according to marketing expert Uta Jüttner from Lucerne's University of Applied Sciences.
"We respect Uefa's right to protect their trademarks, but we also think that one of the biggest sporting events in Switzerland has an economic relevance that goes beyond a small number of official event sponsors," she told swissinfo.
Jüttner, together with Publicis and other partners, has produced a guide advising firms on how they can employ ambush marketing during Euro 2008 without running into legal problems.
Achill Prakash believes there will only be one loser between Uefa and ambush marketers.
"The current model of financing large sporting events with sponsorship money does not have a future, because official sponsors will not be prepared to pay a lot of cash if their brand cannot be protected," he said.
But Kallen was confident that legal safeguards would secure sponsorship funding for future events.
"We are working on protecting our big sponsors. This will be the case for future championships as well - there might be slight adaptations, but there will be no major change in our approach," he said.
swissinfo, Matthew Allen
The term ambush marketing was coined in the early 1990s. It described the strategy of large firms that associated their brand with large events without paying for the privilege.
This marketing behaviour was, at first, most notably associated with the Olympic Games, but soon moved to other sporting events, such as the World Cup and the European Championships.
Several countries have been persuaded by sporting bodies to issue legislation to protect the event's brand. Britain has followed this path to protect the brand name and the Olympic logo during the 2012 Olympic Games.
Ambush marketing has also been called "guerrilla, parasite or freeloader" marketing.
Switzerland will co-host the Euro 2008 football tournament together with Austria from June 7-29.
The 31 games will be played in four cities in Switzerland (Basel, Bern, Geneva and Zurich) and four cities in Austria (Innsbruck, Klagenfurt, Salzburg and Vienna).
Up to 5.4 million football fans are expected to follow the tournament in Switzerland, including 1.4 million from abroad.
The finals will be broadcast in 170 countries and are expected to achieve an accumulated total audience of eight billion viewers spread over the tournament.
Uefa expects to make SFr1.1 billion profit from the event while a Swiss study said Euro 2008 could boost the economy by SFr1.5 billion.
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