Companies invest millions of dollars to become “official sponsors” of major global sporting events. The tremendous publicity and consumer audiences generated by such events provide an attractive marketing opportunity for companies other than the event’s official sponsors who seek to associate themselves in the minds of the public with the goodwill and popularity of these events. This activity, known as ambush marketing, poses significant legal and business challenges for sport event organizers seeking to protect both the financial investment of official sponsors and the integrity of their sponsorship programs. With rising sponsorship stakes, event organizers have become increasingly proactive in their efforts to combat ambush marketing. This article examines the implementation and effectiveness of a variety of evolving sponsorship program protection strategies including: pre-event education and public relations initiatives; on-site policing tactics; contractual language in athlete participation and spectator ticket agreements; and the enactment and enforcement of special trademark protection legislation.
McKelvey is with the Isenberg School of Management at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Grady is with the Department of Sport and Entertainment Management, University of South Carolina.