Don’t find yourselves sued over the London Olympics

The Olympic logo was protected by law in 1995 and the London Olympic Games & Paralympic Games Act 2006 is the key legislation for this year’s Games. It set up the ODA (Olympic Delivery Authority) and includes rules to protect the commercial sponsors of the Games.

So what are you not allowed to do?
No use of Olympic symbol Any use of the five ring Olympic symbol, the 2012 logo, the words ‘games’, ‘2012’, ‘two thousand and twelve’ in combination with each other or with London, gold, silver, bronze or medals is illegal and can attract the wrath of LOCOG (the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games) and a fine of up to £20,000. (If you do any Olympic related promotion on your website, expect to receive an email warning to remove it.)

No Advertising near the Olympics. Anything within an Olympic ‘event zone’ is prohibited unless you are there already – e.g. a shop on the Olympic cycle route can maintain its usual window display, but if you want to take advantage of the crowds to advertise some different products, be aware – you could be arrested and fined.
An event zone is usually an area within 200 metres of any Olympic or Paralympic event during the period of the Games in the area, and it applies not only in London but elsewhere in the country where there is any Olympic activity.

(There is an interesting exception to the no advertising regulations: they do not apply to demonstrations or advertising ‘to publicise a belief, cause or campaign.’)

Ahletes are also prohibited from advertising during the Games period.

No Trading in an event zone. If you already have a pizza house near the Olympic park, you can carry on with your business. But if you decided to take your pizzas along the street on a barrow or offer Burger King’s products to the passing crowds, you could fall foul of the rules. If the authorities suspect you of breaking them, you can be raided: the 2006 Act specifically allows the police (or a Games official) to enter premises and destroy or remove any ‘offending article’ and to use ‘reasonable force’ in the process.

No mention of your Olympics supply contract. If you are lucky enough to have a contract to supply goods or services to LOCOG, you will be faced with some tight restrictions on marketing and these will also apply to your suppliers and subcontractors. You are not allowed to mention your association with the Games except by including a reference to your contract in a list that includes at least nine other client names; and you must deliver your supplies for the Games without any brand name, trade name or trade mark appearing. These terms continue to apply after the London Games are over and there is also a strict confidentiality undertaking.

No ticket selling. If you were able to get some of the Olympic tickets that were offered to the public, you cannot transfer or resell them and if you decide to offer them to customers as a marketing ploy for your business, this can get you into trouble. The sponsors, of course, will be free to dispose of tickets to offer to their clients and contacts. If you want to resell your tickets, you are only allowed to do so through LOCOG’s resale scheme.

All of this is designed to protect the sponsors from ‘ambush marketing’ – and, while it is not unreasonable for the corporations that have stumped up millions of pounds of sponsorship fees to have some protection, the draconian nature of these rules has attracted a lot of criticism. After all, UK taxpayers are the biggest sponsors, paying more than £9 billion – or nearly £150 for each man, woman and child in the country – a lot more than the commercial sponsors, so we should be encouraged to participate in promoting the Olympic symbol – but instead, this is going to be a crime.

Moreover, to prevent the hundreds of companies who are actually responsible for building the venues and supplying the goods and services that are needed to make the Games a success from publicising this fact (except in a brochure listing the Olympics with other client projects) is thought by many to be going too far. Not only would it be difficult for the Government to override contractual terms imposed by LOCOG but the legislation was passed a few years ago and is unlikely to be reversed at this stage.

Reference points:
The London Olympics & Paralympics Act 2006
The Advertising & Trading Regulations:
LOCOG Standard Terms of Procurement
Olympic Symbol etc. (Protection) Act 1995


Paul Jones

Editor of Business Matters, the UKs largest business magazine, and head of Capital Business Media's automotive division working for clients such as Aston Martin and Infiniti.

Editor of Business Matters, the UKs largest business magazine, and head of Capital Business Media's automotive division working for clients such as Aston Martin and Infiniti.