Authored by: Ivan Nachev, Analyst | INCOPRO

What comes to mind first when you hear the word ‘sports’?

If you are based in the UK, you may well think football. Undoubtedly, football will always be the most popular sport in that country, especially with the Premier League being one of the most intense competitions in the world. However, there seems to be room for other types of entertainment in the hearts of UK sports fans, namely games offered by three of the major sports leagues in the United States – NFL (National Football League), MLB (Major League Baseball) and NBA (National Basketball Association). The major US sports leagues are making an impact in Europe, both in business and on the sports field. From an IP perspective, this poses challenges that cannot be ignored.

One of the first efforts to popularise American basketball in the UK can be traced back to a couple of pre-season games played in 1993 by the NBA, who are now clearly enjoying their success abroad, selling out an arena game in January 2018. The NFL has a similar, if not bigger, success in London. What started as one game in 2007 has grown to four regular season games being played in London in 2017.

Both the NBA and NFL have entertained the idea of having franchises based permanently in London1. If achieved, this would be nothing short of a revolution in the sporting industry. Traditionally, no major league sports club in America has ever permanently moved their base abroad.

Baseball has followed this trend as well with, MLB opening its first European pop-up store stocking official merchandise near Covent Garden in 20162. Moreover, a large 4th of July event in 2017 saw actual major league baseball players participating in a hitting contest for fans in Hyde Park3.

Brand loyalty and revenue opportunities

In the European football context, clubs must adhere to the UEFA financial fair play regulations, which ensures that clubs have sufficient funds to support their longevity rather than spending too much in the race to the top of the league. A common way of achieving this goal is having a strong global brand and there is empirical evidence showing a direct link between financial success and positive sporting results4.

Sports club have three main sources of revenue – match day activities, broadcasting and commercial interests5. An integral part of the commercial branch of revenue is the sale of merchandise to their supporters6. The expansion of US sports internationally, and the inevitable interest they generate, naturally leads to an increase in demand for official apparel from fans abroad, particularly in the UK.

Sports team supporters are eager to spend money to show their affiliation, but the apparel can easily be counterfeited, leading to direct financial harm on the sports clubs themselves, as well as corporate sponsors. Due to the threat of counterfeits flooding the market, sports franchises need to have proper brand protection mechanisms in place. Without this protection, not only do merchandise sales suffer but significant sponsorship opportunities could be missed or lost.

How to protect your sports brand?

There are some essential proactive measures that can be taken by sports brands expanding into the global market:

Secure your IP rights

Brand protection would be impossible without securing a strong portfolio of relevant IP rights, in the relevant jurisdictions. Therefore, the most valuable preventive measure is to legally protect a brand’s intellectual property rights, especially in territories where expansion of sporting events and new fan bases, are expected.

Educate the consumer

Sports franchises must do their best to help consumers purchase genuine goods via officially authorised channels. It is important that brands continue to educate fans about how to spot counterfeit items and help them to identify products using such signs as, holographic marks of authenticity. A great example that might be followed is the Premier League’s anti-counterfeiting programme, which educates consumers about the dangers of buying fake goods7.

Proactive enforcement

The best proactive solution would be a wide-ranging brand protection service, which combines innovative technology, smart analysis and intelligence, together with expert advice and extensive enforcement on all possible fronts of infringements occurring online and offline. Businesses should be especially careful and act against the influx of unauthorised activities to protect their brand and longevity.

Conclusion

Maintaining a strong sports brand is not just about success on the field, it is also about protecting the health and safety of fans when they are seeking to buy merchandise to show their passion and loyalty for the sport and their teams.

For successful franchise expansion globally, it is important to adopt a proactive approach to brand protection and implement preventive measures against illegal activity that may damage the sports brand and its fans.

Fans deserve to purchase genuine goods.

1. http://www.startribune.com/an-nfl-team-could-soon-be-based-in-london-but-logistics-remain-high-hurdle/453913803/, https://www.standard.co.uk/sport/london-would-be-a-fantastic-host-for-its-own-nba-franchise-top-official-backs-european-basketball-a3437721.html

2. http://www.baseballsoftballuk.com/news/view/mlb-official-pop-up-store-debuts-in-london

3. https://www.bst-hydepark.com/news/detail/major-league-baseball-comes-to-open-house-on-july-4th

4. http://www.diva-portal.org/smash/get/diva2:632963/FULLTEXT01.pdf

5. http://www.diva-portal.org/smash/get/diva2:632963/FULLTEXT01.pdf

6. http://www.diva-portal.org/smash/get/diva2:632963/FULLTEXT01.pdf

7. https://www.premierleague.com/legal/anti-counterfeiting-programme

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