Personal product finder


Online product finder

Between advertising and getting sent off the pitch: The football World Cup and the fine line for advertisers

10.04.2018 08:27 Uhr PSI
Between advertising and getting sent off the pitch: The football World Cup and the fine line for advertisers | Between advertising and getting sent off the pitch: The football World Cup and the fine line for advertisers

Between advertising and getting sent off the pitch: The football World Cup and the fine line for advertisers

In the year of the World Cup, many question marks still float around the football-crazed globe, while only one thing is certain: a lot of money will be made – again. And so it’s only natural that everyone wants to get a foot on this easy-to-convert assist to score a goal for their business. Which they can’t do just like that. Because FIFA has set up numerous offside traps. This might be the point where you’ll hear the final – and expensive - whistle that nixes your quick extra buck. In order to prevent you from delivering “video proof”, i.e. a screenshot, straight to FIFA, be sure to follow some important “rules of the game”.

It’ll make you rip your hair out, drive you up the wall, make you go absolutely crazy: with the football World Cup taking place in Russia from 14 June to 15 July 2018, one of the world’s largest sporting events is just around the corner, and us regular marketing and advertising blokes have to head all the way to the back of the queue.

At least if we want to use the occasion in our advertising without embarking on the adventure that is sponsorship and/or licensing. And even along the sidelines – to continue the metaphor – there lurk plenty of expensive pitfalls ...

Who’s allowed to advertise?

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves: the official sponsors – and they alone – have honestly earned their spot in the advertising limelight. That’s because they’re paying exorbitant sums for the right to advertise with the official names and logos of the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™.

In an effort to maximise profits, FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association), headquartered in Zurich, created a finely chiselled, multilevel system of sponsorship packages – with tough rules and the ultimate in enforcement strategies.

The first level of these brand recyclers is made up of the so-called FIFA partners; there are seven of them right now, including adidas, Coca-Cola, Gazprom, Hyundai and Visa. In return for paying the most, FIFA partners get the most extensive sponsorship package of global advertising, promotion and marketing rights.

The FIFA World Cup sponsors make up the second level. Though quite a bit slimmer, their sponsorship package is more affordable, too. FIFA is enjoying the support of four World Cup sponsors, including McDonald's.

The third level, meanwhile, consists of regional supporters in FIFA’s five predefined regions: Europe, North/Central America, South America, Middle East & Africa and Asia. The overview of the Europe region currently lists Alfa Bank as the sole regional supporter. Headquartered in Moscow, Alfa Bank is one of the largest private industrial and financial enterprises in Russia.


The fourth level is where the licensees come together. Licensees include media rights licensees and product licensees. The latter category is where it gets a bit more interesting for promotional products sellers.

But watch out: real-world experience from previous events has shown how quickly licensees or even sub-licensees from our ranks can overextend themselves and soon end up in bankruptcy. They are, after all, taking a risk and indebting themselves.

For completeness’ sake, we need to mention the FIFA hospitality programme. For the Russia event, exclusive hospitality rights were awarded to MATCH Hospitality AG. This is where the actors of the fifth level come in, of course with an eye on the compliance rules in the country with the headquarters of their respective companies.

What’s protected?

It goes without saying that the Blatters and Infantinos of the world will always try to drag their commercial trawl right up to the limit of what can legally be protected. Over time, the responsible actors have piled up an entire arsenal of permanent trademark rights, which is complemented by a considerable number of trademark rights that are specific to each event.

The following statement on this topic can be found on the FIFA website: “FIFA has developed a range of logos, words, titles, symbols and other assets/brands/identifiers which are used in connection with the Event (‘Official Marks’).

The Official Marks are protected in Russia and territories around the world by copyright, trademark and/or other forms of intellectual property and laws such as unfair competition or passing off. These laws protect FIFA against the unauthorised use of both identical reproductions and also confusingly similar variations and modifications of the Official Marks.”

Besides the official emblems, trophies and the mascot, the FIFA™ association mark and a veritable rat’s tail of a word string are also protected:

2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™
FIFA World Cup™
World Cup™
COPA 2018™
RUSIA 2018™
RUSSIA 2018™
WM 2018™
The respective names of the host cities, plus a combination of each host city name with “2018” (e.g. Moscow 2018)

And this list is by no means complete. FIFA itself recommends that actors on the sixth level get reliable advice before undertaking any marketing activities related to the World Cup:

“For a full list of FIFA’s trademarks in any specific country, and the specific goods and services for which they are protected, please seek advice from a local intellectual property attorney or inquire with the respective Intellectual Property Office.”

What can happen?

Otherwise, there is, especially in Germany, the looming threat of harsh warning letters associated with demands for payment of legal fees. How easy is it, for example, to carelessly slip “World Cup 2018” into your ad copy? So watch out! Flop here, and you might have to face harsh reprimands and legal costs, plus possible claims for damages and the equally costly destruction of the products that were branded without authorisation.

An expensive fate can also befall those who through their advertising efforts create a general impression that suggests associations to a profile as FIFA sponsor, partner or supporter.

What’s allowed?

As long as the content of an advertisement stays within a descriptive framework of products or measures while referring to football or World Cup (omitting “2018”), everything will be fine (which is something you should definitely keep in mind when it comes to the hashtags you use in the social networks).

This includes positive football-related statements and separate fan campaigns that don’t include protected terms and don’t use protected symbols, posters and emblems.

Displaying the official FIFA match schedule would be an own goal for sure. Self-designed match schedules, however, are permissible. When in doubt, better to ask an expert for advice one too many times then one too few.

In Germany, the IHK (Chamber of Commerce) offers a downloadable fact sheet discussing the right way to handle the World Cup in your commercial activities:

Download FIFA Guidelines German:

Download FIFA Guidelines English:

to News-Summary