Visibility and marketability are the driving factors that prompt the global brands to associate with the sporting events and clubs. To define the concept of sponsorships in simple terms, sponsorship is a commercial relationship in which one party tries to enhance or promote their image by way of an association with another entity or individual. In an era, where sports are promoting multinational brands and have been awarding Jersey, in stadia and a host of other sponsorships, the companies quite as expected view sports events as a vehicle to brand enhancement and as a result, one gets to witness is, Lionel Messi sporting Qatar Airways on his Barcelona Jersey. These Brands are more than willing to use a global sports figure/ team to reach out to the vast number of audiences and sports enthusiasts around the world. All is well if the club and the sports person are wearing the jersey with numerous logos of brands imprinted on it and in compliance with the clothing and equipment regulations of the tournament. However, incidents of sports persons show discontent to wear logos of alcoholic or tobacco products manufacturers are seeing the light of the day with majority claiming that doing so is hurting their religious sentiments and against their morals. Such steps of famous players are not only hurting the visibility of the sponsor but the overall revenue of their products/services.
Is it just not a logo?
Hashim Amla, the current South African test cricket team captain, has sought permission from the board to not to wear the Castle Lager logo. Apparently, the cricketer was of the opinion that Castle Lager being an alcoholic drinks manufacturer, it was against his religious (Islam) principles to drink or promote such a company. Similarly, an upcoming leg- spin bowler Fawad starting from the lower grade cricket to Australia A side has also taken the same stance and refrained from wearing any jersey with a logo Victoria Bitter which is also an alcoholic manufacturing company. Hashim Amla, who is known to be someone who can occupy the crease and play long hours in a test match, has the potential to get the attention of audiences on TV around the world and in the stadium.
Castle Lager, which has been an ardent supporter of cricket South Africa for quite some time, Can afford to lose the marketability of the brand because of an important player on the side? Well, CSA after talks with Castle Lager has relaxed the rules and permitted Amla to not to wear the logo and in return Hashim had to pay a small portion of his match fees as fine. In this case, the CSA and Castle Lager relationships were crucial and came to an amicable conclusion after negotiations. Castle Lager to save the contract with CSA and to consider the prolonged relationship, they did not object to the actions of Amla, but this might soon become a precedent for many athletes in different sports. In such a case, what could be the remedy that the available for the sponsors if a player has refused to wear a logo of the brand irrespective of the reasons he may specify? The terms and conditions of the contract entered between the Cricket South Africa, and Castle Lager are crucial to deciding the liability, damage caused and compensation. The general practice is that since a player surrenders his rights to the Board and has little said on the issue as he is under a contractual obligation and it is the board that has to answer the sponsor in such circumstances.
What’s the way out?
The sponsor who fights a stiff battle with the competitors in the same space and gets a place on the Jersey only to learn that he/she is getting limited support and visibility by the players. Under the Contract law, he may sue the Board for a breach of contract and claim for damages and conversely, if the parties are anticipating a situation of such sort. The usual remedy available can be found under the Morality clause that defines the conduct of the parties under the contract and should resort to means that are not in the interests of the team. The clause is included in the team or individual sponsorship to refrain the players from committing spot- fixing, betting and other illegal acts. This clause can act for and against the player, in the true sense if the board has agreed that the religious sentiments of the players are to be protected under the morality clause then the players have the luxury to refuse to wear the logo. In India, where largely the promotion of advertising of alcohol and tobacco products is banned the clothing and kit regulations provide no recourse for the player and the sponsors as well.
Clothing and Kit regulations
These are compact rules laid down by the organizers (in most cases the supreme sports bodies and associations) which detail the rules that are be followed by the athletes and the clubs concerning the positioning, color, size of the digits and the name of the player on the jersey. They lay down the sanction for teams in case of non-compliance of the rules. Union of European Football Association, which is the governing body of football in the Europe, has enumerated the issue of alcoholic and tobacco products promotion in Article 32 under the head advertising restrictions in the UEFA kit regulations rulebook.
32.1 “The advertising of alcoholic and tobacco, as well as, slogans, religious nature, or for other purposes that offend the common decency, are prohibited”.
32.2 Any bans or restrictions stemming out of the national legislations of the country in which, a UEFA competition is taking place, will apply.
Going back to the situation wherein the player is seeking remedy for willful disobedience about the jersey sponsorship and alcoholic and tobacco promotion. If the organizers have in place rules of the above nature which clearly states that sponsors would be barred from promoting their alcoholic and tobacco products. The player can without explaining it to the management, or the sponsor of the Jersey can withdraw from wearing the jersey stating that it is a violation of the Clothing and Kit regulations policy.
Unfortunately, the organizers of the large-scale events like Indian Premier League, Indian Soccer League or BCCI recognized matches who have in place Clothing and Kit regulations does not specify the aspect of alcoholic and tobacco manufacturers logo.
Anticipate and Eliminate
Parveez Rasool, a Kashmiri cricketer, has covered a liquor brands logo with a tape, when enquired for such an act, he replied, “I can’t endorse liquor brand. For me, my belief is paramount. My family is happy with the decision” There would be a difference of opinions on the statement but before one takes a position on advertising of such brands in sporting events. More than anything else, it is the examples that these acts set day’s scenario to come and players who are to follow. As there could be players who with an ill intention use the defense of religious sentiments. Hence, given the room for a surrogate advertisement that has been an indirect way of promotion for one’s alcoholic and tobacco brand. There is a serious need for the authorities/ organizers to visit their rulebook and amend the rules in a manner that is in the best interests of the sponsors and players and over dependence of the “morality clause” in a contract of sponsorship. Therefore, sports sponsorship should not only incentivize the players and sponsors but also regulate and respect the religious sentiments of the players without comprising on the brand value and image of the sponsor. Before the problem becomes a major one and grows so big that it cannot be controlled the administrators need to rise to the occasion and work towards resolving the issue.
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