Legal and commercial issues to consider when organising and hosting sporting events in Northern Ireland

Levi stadium

Event organisers involved in the hosting and management of sporting events must consider a range of legal and commercial issues to ensure an appropriate balance is achieved between maximising the returns from investment, and minimising risk.

Firstly, event organisers should consider carefully the rights that are intended to be granted under commercial arrangements, whether it be sponsorship, broadcasting, ticketing or other commercial rights. Key decisions include whether to appoint a ticketing agent (such as Ticketmaster), and whether the grant of sponsorship or broadcasting rights will be on an exclusive basis. Depending on the nature of the event, it might also be necessary to enter into a host city agreement.

Secondly, the use of intellectual property (IP) is a key consideration. IP deriving from sporting events might include (but not necessarily limited to) logos; mascots; merchandise; broadcasting rights; fixture lists; and official programmes. Event organisers should develop a clear IP strategy in order to fully understand what IP exists (by way of an IP and rights audit) and ensure it is adequately protected. Stakeholders should also be prepared to enforce their IP rights should any third parties attempt to infringe them, and should give clear strategic thought as to how effectively they can be exploited . Whilst not an IP right per se, the value attached to data generated by sporting events also presents a huge opportunity for event organisers, but raises important statutory data protection and data privacy issues which event organisers must be alive to.

Thirdly, an increasingly relevant issue is the risk of brands who have no official ‘link’ to the event seeking to exploit, or associate with, the goodwill of the event without securing official sponsorship or commercial association rights. In order to minimise the risk of ambush marketing, rights holders should put in place proactive steps pre-event, which might include registration of trade marks, ensuring the terms of commercial agreements such as ticketing are drafted appropriately, and developing close working relationships with other key stakeholders involved in staging the event, such as relevant local authorities or national governing bodies.

Finally, the importance of ensuring spectator safety at venues should be prioritised. Event organisers should ensure that local legislation relating to both the safety of sports grounds and health and safety are complied with.

Andrew Nixon and Jonny Madill are lawyers in the Sports Group at Sheridans, and advise sports clients including event organisers, governing bodies, rights holders, sports clubs, sports tech companies, sports agencies and individual athletes. Andrew and Jonny can be contacted on anixon@sheridans.co.uk and jmadill@sheridans.co.uk, or on twitter at @sheridanssport

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