This article offers a comprehensive understanding of ambush marketing in the realm of sports, shedding light on the complex interplay between sponsors, non-sponsors, and consumers.

The article 'Sports and Ambush Marketing - A Strategic Analysis' offers a comprehensive understanding of ambush marketing in the realm of sports, shedding light on the complex interplay between sponsors, non-sponsors, and consumers.


Ambush Marketing refers to a strategic approach used by businesses to exploit the commercial benefits associated with a prominent athletic event, even in the absence of any official affiliation with such event, done by a non-sponsoring entity, resulting in the unauthorised acquisition of advantages derived from the event.

Ambush Marketing is nothing new, especially in the field of sports. Ambush marketing encompasses many strategies used by firms to create a false impression among consumers that they have official sponsorship status for a certain event, achieved via the utilisation of event-related logos and other identifying elements.

In simple words, it's just when a competitor joins an event without being officially part of it to get more attention than the sponsors. A lot of brands, companies, organisations, and other groups use this type of marketing. It involves a situation where the unauthorised company does not incur the formal sponsorship costs or violate legal regulations, while another company has officially paid to be recognised as the event's sponsor. While a business supporting and funding an event would be more focused on its main job, other companies would come up with the craziest way to ambush the event.

It's likely that sports are the biggest area where ambush marketing is used. When you think about how much funding, endorsements, and other things there are for just one league, team, or person, that's a lot! Take the Indian Premier League as an example. The league has its own sponsors, and each club has its own. Even the players have their own brands for their clothes and bats. There would be a huge number of donors. Because of this, sports seem like a very simple way for a competitor to use ambush marketing.

Types of Ambush Marketing

Two distinct types of ambush marketing exist:

First, there's a direct ambush, in which an unauthorised party poses as an official sponsor by appropriating the event's name, logo, etc. Although Sachin Tendulkar appeared in a commercial for Reliance Communication during the 2007 Cricket World Cup, Hutch, not Reliance Infocomm, was the tournament's official sponsor.

There are numerous indirect Ambush Marketing techniques, including broadcast sponsorship and subcategory sponsorship of significant events. In 1996, for example, Coca-Cola was the tournament's primary sponsor. Pepsi's competitor responded by launching a massive advertising campaign with the slogan "Nothing Official About It." People were more intrigued by the Pepsi advertisement than Coke’s.

Reasons for Committing Ambush Marketing

Neither small businesses nor big companies can do without it. Local businesses that can't afford to pay a lot of money for donations can still use ambush marketing to get their events seen, build brand awareness, and make their competitors' advertising less effective. Companies that do business around the world but don't have a lot of resources may still benefit from Ambush Marketing's ability to link their brand to events without officially backing them. As an example, Pepsi hurt Coca-Cola's marketing during the final match of the Coca-Cola Cup in Sharjah. Coca-Cola was the official sponsor there, but Pepsi, which wasn't a sponsor of the Coca-Cola Cup, let everyone know it was there by releasing huge balloons with its logo around the match area.

There are several benefits for the person doing the ambush marketing.

People know more about Ambusher because it isn't an official sponsor of the event. This helps it save money and gain more attention. In addition, an ambush attack is made to hurt the official sponsor's marketing effort.

Reasons why ambush advertising should be illegal?

Because of Ambush Marketing, the actual sponsor doesn't get anything in return for the big money they spend on advertising, like increased brand awareness, a presence at the event, or press for their brand. Businesses don't spend a lot of money to become official sponsors of an event when they use ambush marketing. This makes it less likely that the event will make money. Ambush marketing has major negative effects on both the event's official sponsors and the event itself, so getting rid of it is a top concern. This is bad for the show, its sponsors, and the people who are going to see it.

Relation between Ambush Marketing and Sports

Direct ambushing is the first stage of ambush marketing in the realm of sports. It's the unauthorised use of a sign, logo, word, name, pattern, or other graphic element. These businesses either directly confront their competition or make no attempt to conceal their strategies. In addition, there are four subtypes of direct ambush: predatory, coattail, trademark infringing, and self-ambushing. By attacking the sponsorship of a rival band, a marketing tactic known as "predatory ambush" confuses consumers about which company is really supporting which act.

Coattail ambush marketing occurs when one company rides on the success of another company's campaign. When a company promotes itself using the name, slogan, or other elements of another company, it is committing copyright infringement. The objective is to spread brand misinformation in order to harm the marketing of the competing product. Moreover, self-ambushing is a marketing strategy used by businesses when they are official sponsors of an event but do something unexpected there.

Sports are the greatest and largest venue for any business to employ ambushing based on how direct ambushing works. This is why sports need support from businesses and spectators. This is also why, whether they sponsor or not, it might be the finest venue for businesses to get exposure and popularity.

Next, there is Indirect Ambush Marketing (as defined above), which is a kind of Ambush marketing often used in sports. When one company secretly profits from another's advertising campaigns, this is called "grey marketing." The term for this tactic is "indirect ambush marketing." Indirect ambush marketing may be further subdivided into connection ambush marketing and distraction ambush marketing.

In order to make it seem as if they are associated with an event, brands will utilise phrases, images, and other things that are not protected by intellectual property laws. This is a kind of marketing known as "ambush marketing" In order to market itself and get more attention, a company may make oblique allusions to the event. When one company promotes its products near or during an event without making any effort to link up with the other company or the event, this is an example of indirect ambush marketing through distraction. Brands try to draw in those who are already interested in the event by engaging in activities that have nothing to do with the event itself.

Examples of indirect ambush marketing in sports include: A London-based Irish gaming company named Paddy Power advertised themselves as "official sponsors of the largest athletics event in London" at the 2012 Olympics. They also included a little statement with the jargon that explained they were referring to the French Quarter of London and not the Olympic Games. In reality, they were discussing an old-fashioned egg and spoon race that they were sponsoring in London.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) tried to sue Paddy Power for their sneaky ambush, but they were ultimately unsuccessful. Indirect ambush examples also include a marketing distraction put up by Nike at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. Reebok was the primary sponsor of the Olympics that year. About a mile away from the main Olympic athletes' village, Nike constructed its own community for the competing athletes. The Olympic Park was visible from this town. They were widely covered by the media, both in and beyond of the sporting world.

Indirect Sneaking up on individuals is one of the most popular forms of ambush marketing. There are several potential scenarios at each given sporting event. This is an example of ambush marketing, which is not officially affiliated with or promoting the event in question. The main objective is to divert people's attention away from what's happening.

Ambush marketing via athletes is the next kind of ambush marketing in sports. The goal of these campaigns is to have an individual athlete or team member "ambush" a larger event's official sponsor, such as the Olympics. There may be a connection between this and the earlier instance when Beats ambushed an event by leveraging its endorsers, the Olympic athletes.

During the 1992 Barcelona Olympic games, Nike used the face, and one of the most popular persons on the planet during that time, Michael Jordan by having him cover a rival company and officially sponsor Reebok's logo with the American flag. So Jordan hit the court to win an Olympic gold medal for himself and Nike. Jordan would have reaped enormous rewards from taking such a risky role in the company's marketing efforts. Brands like Nike, Reebok, Adidas, and many more have teamed up with athletes to design special signature shoes.

With this collaboration, the brands make those signature shoes into a signature brand itself which starts to sell all types of merchandise made by that brand itself. So basically if an athlete has collaborated with say for example Nike, he is now a part of Nike! And when he's attending an event sponsored by a rival like Adidas, he is ambushing the event by wearing his signature Nike products. It's also possible that he plays for a Puma-sponsored team. His jersey will be Puma, but his shoes are his signature Nike shoes, therefore he is promoting Nike in front of a platform in which Puma has spent money to promote themselves.

Despite the fact that ambush marketing is a questionable practice, the vast majority of nations have no legitimate agreements in this area. However, the legality of an ambush marketing campaign depends on the method employed by the ambush advertiser for that particular campaign. The ambusher can be prosecuted under trademark encroachment laws if the ambush marketing campaign infringes on the trademarks and other protected innovations of another brand. Nevertheless, most ambush advertisers are careful not to infringe on the trademarks of another brand or event. In some cases, the ambush advertiser can still be charged despite not infringing on another brand's trademarks.

How does it affect sports?

The Impact of Ambush Marketing on Competitions, National Teams, and Individual Athletes: Well-organized international athletic events have the capacity to stimulate economies and sports systems, enhance a country's global visibility, promote tourism, and provide platforms for inspiring local athletes. Private sponsorship is a necessary component for the successful organisation of large-scale events, alongside official finance. Sponsors want acknowledgement for their contribution to the event, while also expecting reciprocal benefits.

The potential sponsors will refrain from committing to sponsorship unless they possess confidence in the event's organisers. In the case that the planners lack sufficient strategies to address Ambush Marketing, prospective sponsors of the event may be deterred. This implies that Ambush Marketing may potentially have a substantial influence on the overall financial aspects of an event since there are instances when a corporation may find it more advantageous to engage in ambushing tactics rather than paying a substantial sponsorship price. Consequently, the financial prospects of the event are lowered.

The phenomenon of Ambush Marketing resulted in a state of confusion among viewers over the true affiliation of a certain corporation with the event. As a result, it is sometimes seen that ambusher entities are able to achieve significant levels of brand recognition while incurring low costs.

Sponsors: Despite substantial financial investments, sponsors get little benefits in terms of enhanced brand visibility and spectator engagement. Furthermore, the practice of Ambush Marketing hinders the ability of companies to cultivate a favourable brand image among their target audience.

Lufthansa Airlines demonstrated its creative approach to ambush marketing by adorning the noses of its aircraft with football designs. The sponsorship of the 2006 World Cup by airlines may give the impression of a casual association to uninformed observers. However, it is important to note that Emirates had the official airline sponsorship for the FIFA tournament.

Indian Legislation for Ambush Marketing

The Legal argument in India on ambush marketing has left event planners with little hope. Without an overall statute prohibiting ambush marketing, event planners must depend on intellectual property law safeguards, which may not always be effective. The scenario during the 2003 ICC World Cup, which is used as an example below, is especially terrible. For protection against infringement, event planners often resort to the Copyright Act of 1957, the Indian Trade Mark Act of 1999, or the common law of passing off.

Trademark Infringement: If the organiser or supporting business has a registered trademark and that trademark or any similar or deceptively similar mark is used by an unauthorised user, proceedings for trademark infringement may be launched under Section 29 of the Trade Mark Act 1999. Infringing enterprises are smarter than in the past, thus they use indirect ambush marketing methods such as using their own brand name rather than a mark that may be mistaken with the original. As a consequence, there is no action available under trademark law.

In ICC Development (International) Ltd. v. Arvee Enterprises and Anr., (2003) indirect ambush marketing made the Trademark Act ineffective. The plaintiff, ICC Development (International) Ltd, organised the event and held all commercial and intellectual property rights for the ICC World Cup 2003. The complainant applied for trademark protection in India for the terms "ICC Cricket World Cup South Africa 2003" and "Dazzler," the tournament's mascot. Simultaneously, the second defendant "Philips" ran tournaments with catchy names like "Philips: Diwali Manao World Cup Jao," which were confusingly similar to the plaintiff's trademark. In response, the plaintiff filed a trademark infringement complaint, but the court determined that Philips was not infringing on any trademarks since the word "World Cup" is generic and therefore fair game.

Passing off: When no one can pass his products off as someone else's, the owner of an unregistered trademark may use Section 135 of the Trademark Act 1999. However, in order to get a remedy for passing off, organisers must first satisfy three factors, which are not often easy to establish. First, the organiser must demonstrate that he has earned widespread respect for the event in question; second, the organiser must show that the third party misrepresented its relationship to the event organisers through deceptive ambush marketing; and third, the organiser must show that he or she has suffered or is likely to suffer damages as a result of the misrepresentation.

Copyright Protection: When trademarks or other kinds of protected intellectual property are used without authorization, this type of retribution is often sought. A copyright holder may bring an infringement action under Section 51 of the Indian Copyright Act.

Although the plaintiff's arguments were based on a prima facie case of passing off, unfair competition, and violation of publicity rights, the Delhi High Court granted an injunction against the defendant only on the grounds of misuse of the World Cup logo in the case of ICC Development (International) Ltd. vs. Evergreen Station. The court found that the logo qualified as an artistic work covered by the Indian Copyright Act in this case.


Given the inherent difficulties of anticipating and addressing all possible instances of ambush marketing, it is reasonable to assume that ambush marketers will continue to use legal loopholes to carry out their techniques. Despite its contentious nature, ambush marketing remains a viable technique for businesses looking to build brand value, improve consumer perceptions, and maybe gain market share. Firms that use this technique must be timely and creative in order to increase the efficacy and longevity of their trap marketing efforts. Prior to launching an ambush marketing campaign, it is thought acceptable to do an extensive study on the regulations and rules relevant to the targeted event or the rival's marketing effort. This preventive approach is necessary to reduce the possibility of legal ramifications and protect one's company's image.


[1] Ambush Marketing and Its Impact, Available Here

[2] Ambush Marketing and Legal Regime in India, Available Here

[3] Defending IPL From Ambush Marketing Strategies, Available Here

[4] Ambush marketing and trademark law in India, Available Here

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Updated On 21 Oct 2023 11:55 AM GMT
Sanjoli Verma

Sanjoli Verma

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