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Getting in the (Rugby World Cup) zone

Be careful what colour shirt you wear around the Rugby World Cup

While the Rugby World Cup will test the capacity of our biggest venues and public transport systems, to say nothing of the actual sporting competition, another battle will be fought outside the stadia.

This particular David-and-Goliath struggle will pit local business against big business, thanks to a piece of legislation known as the Major Events Management Act 2007.

It’s designed to prevent unauthorised businesses piggybacking off the Rugby World Cup name or associated sponsors, also known as ‘ambush marketing’. For example, at last year’s FIFA World Cup a group of Dutch women were booted out of the Netherlands–Denmark match after officials accused them of wearing orange dresses to promote an unlicensed beer brand.

The MEMA was first put to the test on a small scale during the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup in 2008, but this year’s Rugby World Cup will really set the benchmark. The act places restrictions on advertising, street trading and other commercial activities in the areas around stadia and fanzones (known as clean zones) and along the main thoroughfares nearby (clean routes) during certain large-scale events.

Not all promotional activity is banned; those advertising in accordance with their existing activities should in theory be safe. Advertising that directly refers to the Rugby World Cup in any way will fall foul of the law (and using words such as ‘unauthorised’ or ‘unofficial’ won’t make a difference). Cross the line, and officers appointed by the Ministry of Economic Development could seize your ads, or issue fines of up to $150,000.

It remains to be seen how aggressively the rules will be policed, but businesses would do well to educate themselves about the finer details of the MEMA. It may sound heavy- handed, but this is serious business; NZ Rugby World editor Gregor Paul says the cup’s small family of official sponsors are paying big bucks and failing to protect their investment could put paid to New Zealand’s chances of hosting similar tournaments in the future. If we want to continue to play in the big leagues, we’ll have to play by their rules.
– Esther Goh

IP COMMENT - Corinne Blumsky

Some of the subtleties of the prohibitions are not fully understood by some businesses, especially around the protected words. I think there are going to be some businesses that are surprised when they get a letter saying they fall foul of the MEMA.

In terms of the clean zones and routes and what they actually mean, it’s an unusual kind of thing to get your ahead around that you can’t advertise in a particular area at a particular time. Again, a lot of small businesses are busy just doing what they’re doing, making a dollar or two, and don’t necessarily have an eye on all the details.

It’s about actually recognising that there could even be an issue. As with most legislation, ignorance is no defence. I think it will be strictly policed but how strictly will K depend on the seriousness of the breach. It won’t be one-size-fits-all.

Any country that had an Olympic Games or a major FIFA-type event will have some form of legislation like this. You can either have generic legislation like we’ve done, which can apply to a number of events, but other countries have had specific legislation designed purely and simply for an event.

Having the more generic legislation that can be utilised across a range of events is probably a good option. You’re not having to enact specific legislation, so people will become familiar with what the general rules are. That will give some clarity in terms of what they’re dealing with.

There’s a need for protection but it comes down to how it’s enforced, and we’ve had little experience in that so far. It’s really going to be showcased during the Rugby World Cup. That will set something of a precedent.

Corinne Blumsky is a partner at AJ Park Law and Patent Attorneys