The city of Detroit, which will host Major League Baseball's All-Star Game next month and the National Football League's Super Bowl XL in February, has scaled back modifications to a 1999 ambush-thwarting ordinance that would have created a one-mile no-ad zone around its stadiums.
Although there will still be a zone-the ad ban doesn't apply to the NFL or MLB, which are allowed to advertise all over the city-it won't be as large. And the new ordinance makes it easier for local businesses to cut deals for signage with companies that might not have paid the average $15 million to be a corporate sponsor of baseball, or, say, the $40 million Pepsi pays the NFL yearly to be the official beverage sponsor.
It's up to the leagues and the city to police ambush marketers such as Nike, Reebok, Jack Daniels, the beer companies and more, who have been both sly and creative in crashing big events.
"The issue is simple," said Mike Janssenn, senior VP-operations for the Detroit Super Bowl XL Host Committee. "If we don't protect [the official sponsors], we'll never get another major event here again."
Ambush marketing is nothing new. It's a simple technique in which marketers try to one-up their competition by getting free advertising. They don't pay the whopping sponsorship fees, but in most cases, they also don't get the whopping attention, either.
"If the ambush marketer can get in and get TV time, it takes it to a new level," said Eric Wright, VP at Ann Arbor, Mich.-based Joyce Julius & Associates, which tracks and evaluates sponsorships. "But that's not usually the case. In most instances, you're basically getting what you pay for, and the bang for your buck is little. You're getting more for being in the surrounding area of the venue. Generating impressions on TV, even if it's 10 seconds, is like a miracle."
EXPECT NO MIRACLES
But even 10 seconds in the 2006 Super Bowl, where the average price of a 30-second spot is likely to push $2.5 million, only generates about $417,000 worth of exposure. And most times, that's a miracle that simply isn't granted.
"We're respectful of the official sponsors of the league and of the people who have bought ad time with us," said a coordinating producer for one of TV networks.
"This is an annual tradition," NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said, "where ambush marketers try to affiliate with the Super Bowl. We're aggressive in protecting our rights and the rights we extend to official sponsors."
Asked who would enforce the ban on ambush marketers, Mr. McCarthy said it is up to the league's in-house counsel and the city in which the game is being played. In Detroit, the new ordinance came a week after Crain's Detroit Business reported the city was considering even stricter controls on the restriction of outdoor signage and banners, including prohibiting mobile advertising and the distribution of handbills-a move since abandoned.
Does anyone expect the ambush marketing to stop? Not in the least. In fact, although General Motors is the official car company of the NFL and Super Bowl XL, the mayor of the Canadian city of Windsor, Ontario-located just across the Detroit River-said he will aggressively market his town to lure some of the 100,000 expected visitors, and the sponsorship activities will include Detroit's other automakers.
It’ll be easier for local businesses to cut sinage deals with companies who aren’t sanctioned
Some classic examples of ambush marketing at major events
* In 1994, Visa replaced American Express as an official sponsor for the Winter Olympics. Amex shot back with an advertising campaign that said, "If you’re traveling to Lillehammer, you’ll need a passport but you don’t need a Visa."
* In 2002, Procter & Gamble had signs touting its Tide detergent near the Louisiana Superdome, site of the Super Bowl, which read: "Because there are more than XXXVI ways to ruin your clothes. Enjoy the Big Game." The wording cleverly avoided using the term "Super Bowl," which the NFL has rights to, but worked in the Roman numerals that the game uses, which the NFL does not have rights to.
* In 2003, Reebok put temporary tattoos (above) and Terry Tate jerseys on 500 students in along the Boston marathon course to undermine sponsor Adidas