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How Italy is tackling ambush marketing ahead of UEFA 2021 & 2026 Winter Olympics

Winter Olympics
Thursday, 30 April 2020 By Stella Riberti

How would you define the marketing strategy of surreptitiously promoting a brand within the context of a popular (most often sports-related) event thus creating in the public mind a false implication of sponsorship, yet without the consent of the event organizer and without paying any fees to the same? According to the definition coined by marketing strategist Jerry Welsh in the 1980s, this is "ambush marketing".

Examples are countless. Looking at the most recent Winter Olympics, PyeongChang 2018, you might remember spotting a marketing initiative from SK Telecom, involving a series of three broadcast ads using two South Korean Olympic athletes with slogans like “See you in PyeongChang” and “See you in 5G Korea”, at the expense of the official sponsor, KT Corporation[1].

Countries hosting major events are increasingly eager to fight such predatory advertising activities.  On 14 March 2020, the Italian Government took a significant step towards the prohibition of so-called "ambush marketing" activities by enacting Law Decree no. 16/2020[2] (the Decree).  The timing is particularly important in light of a number of high-profile sporting events due to take place in Italy, including Euro 2021[3], the 2022 Ryder Cup, the 2021-2025 ATP Finals and, last but not least, the Milan-Cortina 2026 Winter Olympic Games.  This article reviews the Decree.  Specifically, it looks at:

  • Introduction to ambush marketing and the need for balanced legislation
  • Background to ambush marketing legislation in Italy
  • Key points of the new Decree
    • Prohibited activities
    • Exception for individual sponsors
    • Prohibition window
    • Penalties
    • Other provisions
  • Analysis and comment

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Written by

Stella Riberti

Stella Riberti

Stella is a senior associate in the sports & entertainment team of Withers. Her practice focuses on both international commercial contracts and a wide range of sports law matters - in respect of which she specialises in advising athletes, agents, coaches, clubs, leagues and agencies on contractual and regulatory issues as well as representing in international sports arbitration proceedings. She is a member of the Italian Ice Sports Association’s Judicial Panel and sits on the Sports Law Commission of the Milan Bar and on the Lombardia Commission of the Italian Sports Lawyers Association.

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