Rugby fever is about to explode and, as normally happens when a major event captures the nation, the marketing community will look to make the most of the excitement. 

Some brands will have invested in official sponsorship months of even years ago, acquiring rights to either the Rugby World Cup itself, one of the participating teams, and/or a player or two. Other brands may have already engineered a carefully planned campaign that draws on the spirit of rugby and the land of the rising sun but avoids legal pitfalls. However, there’s no doubt plenty of others will just want to jump on the bandwagon with a hurriedly put together tactical campaign, most likely on social or in print. That is where it can so often go wrong…

So if you fall into the latter camp, what can you do to avoid the wrath of the rights owners (such as World Rugby, the teams (WRU, RFU etc), and the players)? Here are our top tips for marketing connected to the tournament:

  • Ambush marketing in any form (even if technically not infringing any rights or breaking any laws) is going to be frowned upon by the rights owners. So if you want to ensure that you’re completely above board, either try to do a last minute sponsorship deal (unlikely at this stage, except perhaps with a player) or don’t do anything - just sit back and enjoy the tournament!
  • Don’t use any official logos associated with the tournament or any of the teams.
  • Avoid using official names: even use in hashtags (for example #AllBlacks, #Japan2019 or #RugbyWorldCup) could amount to trade mark infringement or result in a claim for passing off when used in marketing.
  • Don’t use the name or image of any players or coaches, or otherwise imply that they endorse your brand, unless you have their permission.
  • Tickets shouldn’t be used for promotional purposes without the consent of the organisers, so don’t offer them as prizes.
  • Footage and photographs from this and previous tournaments shouldn’t be used without permission of the copyright owner and the relevant rights owner(s). Even if you’ve got a lucky colleague who’s out in Japan, don’t be tempted to use their snaps of a game as that’s likely to be in breach of the ticket t&cs too.
  • If you’re determined to do some marketing connected to the event, keep it generic. The rights owners don’t ‘own’ rugby, and Japanese or nationalistic themes are, in themselves, unlikely to infringe third party rights. However always be cautious to ensure that the manner in which you’re using any generic references (especially where combined) doesn’t imply endorsement.
  • Finally, brief your social media teams! From experience, given the desire to react quickly to some exciting news during the event, that’s where the highest risk of getting it wrong lies.

With Japan also hosting the Olympics and Paralympics next year, it’s worth flagging now that similar rules apply to the Tokyo 2020 Games. In addition to standard protections afforded by trade marks, copyright and passing off, certain Olympic and Paralympic symbols, motos and terminology benefit from special statutory protection. But more on that once we’ve got the rugby out of the way…