Soccer fever has hit New Zealand largely due to the success of our national team making the cut for the World Cup held in South Africa last month.  Cup fever hit South Africa also, and in the lead-up it inspired many South African businesses to try to get a slice of the action.  However, as we saw in media coverage of the lead-up, many were shut-out of the lucrative market by Cup organisers and official sponsors.  You may have seen on the news a particularly nice commemorative key-ring that was produced by a local business, using local resources but which was unable to be sold due to IP and other laws. 

With less than 18 months to go until the Rugby World Cup 2011 (RWC) many businesses will be starting to think how they can get a slice of the action?   If you are one of those you need to be aware of some regulations guiding businesses association with a major public event like the RWC. Like many South African businesses, you could be shut out if you don’t play by the rules.


Many major sponsorship arrangements have long been made, but if you (or your business) are offered the opportunity to provide sponsorship for an event like the RWC you will likely be required to enter into a written sponsorship arrangement.  The terms of that arrangement will then guide your actions when using logos and other aspects of the event’s publicity package. 

However, in the absence of a formal sponsorship arrangement, you need to be aware of laws which safeguard against piggy-backing the publicity of an event without paying sponsorship fees.

Implying you’re a sponsor when you’re not

If you are not an official sponsor of the RWC or other public event, publicising or advertising your business in a way that implies that you are could see you in hot water for breaching the Fair Trading Act.  You could be seen to be misleading your customers in relation to your association with the event in question.  

In that case you would also likely be found to be acting contrary to the law of Passing Off, as you would be “passing yourself off” as an official sponsor when in fact you are not.

Even if your business simply intends to use tickets to the event as part of a promotion to clients and others, you need to be aware that your actions could render the tickets void, depending on the terms and conditions of purchase.  These terms are often written on the reverse of the ticket so make sure you read the small print before disappointing a valued client. 

Using event logos and other IP without permission

If you associate your business with an event like the RWC by using registered trademarks or other intellectual property (IP) without permission you will likely find yourself under fire for breaching trademark and other IP laws.  These laws also prevent use of any marks “confusingly similar” to the protected logo, so you must be careful when even alluding to an event in this way. 

That might seem obvious, but have you thought that IP laws could prevent you from referring to the name of the event itself? Well they could, and even referring to the teams could breach copyright in those names.

If you are now thinking that it might be difficult to benefit from an event like the RWC without formal sponsorship, you are right!  And wait, there’s more …

Major Events Management Act 2007

This Major Events Management Act is specifically designed to prevent unauthorised exploitation of a major event like the RWC.  To comply, businesses must avoid:

  • Indicating an association with the event;
  • Using marks, emblems or terms/names that are legally registered or protected; and
  • Giving away merchandise or advertising in areas in and around the event, including along recognised transport routes to the event.

So is the RWC, and other major public events, off limits to non-sponsor businesses?

Despite all the rules that have been outlined, the RWC and other major public events are not necessarily off-limits to non-sponsor businesses.  The goodwill associated with the events can be piggy-backed if done in accordance with the governing laws.

To make sure you comply seek professional advice before embarking on an expensive advertising or promotional campaign that could cost you even more in court fees down the track.