Sunday, February 19, 2006

Sports marketers teaching Stalin a lesson

Quickly, who poses a greater danger to Freedom of Speech? Are these
a) Chinese censors;
b) religious fanatics; or
c) sports marketers?

It's starting to look like the latter. First there was the blogging prohibition for Olympic athletes in Turin. And if this blatant example of censoring people who want to express their once-in-a-lifetime-experiences is not enough, there's now the impending scourge of anti-ambush marketing.

Ambush marketing is the nightmare for organizers of sports events, who stand to gain millions or even billions from sponsoring income. Ambush marketers are non-sponsors who literally steal the show by using the events for their own promotional purposes, for instance by doling out massive numbers of branded goodies to fans outside the stadiums.

'Anti-ambush marketing' (sounds suspiciously similar to war against terror) has become a fixture in preparations for Olympic and other giant sports events, as can be seen on the websites ofBOCOG, the organizing committee for Beijing 2008, and FIFA, the organizer of the World Soccer Championship 2006, respectively. FIFA even reserves the right to deny ticket holders the right of access to the stadiums if there are too many of them wearing or carrying non-sponsors' stuff.

And it's getting worse. The London Olympics 2012 lobby has now succeeded in getting a version of the London Olympics Bill in Parliament that contains paragraphs that would even embarrass the most jaded Chinese censors. If the organizers get their way there will be a ban on the public use of words like "games", "2012", "gold", "silver" and "bronze", and even "London" and "Summer".

Or to be more precise (there's always the risk that lawyers read this), if you use any of these words and the organizers accuse you of terror attacks ambush marketing, you'll be guilty until proven innocent.

In marketing jargon we call this 'pulling a Guantanamo.' Even worse, in combination with banning innocent citizens from blogging, we have a very worrying trend on our hands.

Someone should put a stop to this kind of development. Sports marketing is in jeopardy of getting a worse reputation than Stalin. At least he allowed people to use the word 'Summer.'

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