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Reaching the RWC audience might be harder than you think

By Melissa Higham - 3 Mar 2011

New Zealand's greatest sporting event, the Rugby World Cup 2011 (RWC), will soon be here. It appears to be a fantastic opportunity for New Zealand businesses to capitalise on the hype and drum up some extra business for themselves. But doing so may be more difficult than many hope.

The Major Events Management Act 2007 (MEMA) prevents 'ambush marketing' practices, and protects the owners and official sponsors of major events. Ambush marketing is where businesses try to link themselves with major events by advertising without signing a sponsorship agreement or paying any sponsorship fees. The RWC is a major event under the MEMA.

The MEMA prohibits the following commercial activities:

  1. Advertising and promotions that can be deemed an intrusion on RWC activities or the audience of those activities.  So street trading is prohibited in defined areas around the stadiums called 'clean zones'.
  2. Representations suggesting that individuals, businesses, brands, goods or services have an association with the RWC when they do not.  The MEMA specifically outlines certain words, logos and other trademarks ('prohibited information') that can be used only by the event organiser or official sponsors.
  3. Activities that may compromise the RWC - e.g. ticket scalping or pitch invasion.
  4. Any kind of advertising which uses prohibited information to create an association.

Others have tried - and failed

A good example of ambush marketing occurred at a recent Fifa World Cup game in South Africa. A group of 36 women were hired to wear orange dresses promoting the Dutch brewery Bavaria. The women were ejected from the stadium, and two were arrested and charged under the Contravention of Merchandise Marks Act. This Act prevents companies from benefiting from an event without paying for advertising.

In the UK, The Independent reported on 8 February that organisers of the London 2012 Olympic games are taking a similar, active anti-ambush approach. Already, an East End café called Café Olympic is being targeted, despite it being around for three years already and not using the Olympic five rings logo.

In New Zealand, the MEMA has already had its first culprit. In September 2010, a man was charged for importing fake RWC merchandise. The Auckland District Court fined both the man and his company $20,000.

The Commerce Commission is keen to ensure that businesses play by the rules in attempting  to cash in on the opportunities presented by the Rugby World Cup 2011. A new page on the Commission's website provides assistance to businesses and consumers about issues that may arise in the context of the RWC. See

If you are unsure about whether something may breach the MEMA or create an association with the RWC, always seek legal advice before proceeding. Please contact Andrew Nicoll or your usual contact at Martelli McKegg on 09 379 7333.


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