The Rugby World Cup 2023: how to show your brand's excitement without mauling the rights of the official sponsors

7 minute read
15 August 2023


With the 2023 Rugby World Cup (RWC23) about to kick-off in France, businesses across the world – whether official sponsors and partners, rugby enthusiasts, or those just looking to capitalise on another giant sporting event – will be preparing to make the most of the marketing opportunities RWC23 presents. You don't have to be an official sponsor or partner to make use of the event to raise your profile. Still, you do have to know where the (touch)line is so you're not blindsided by angry organisers and sponsors who have paid for the exclusive right to associate themselves with RWC23.

To keep you onside, we've set out five key issues to consider when pulling together marketing materials linking to the RWC23.

1. Know your rights

Unsurprisingly, given the scale and nature of the event, the organisers of RWC23 have a variety of registered and unregistered rights in Europe, the UK, and elsewhere around the globe. The event might be taking place in France, but that does not mean a business in any other country can exploit the organisers' rights without repercussions. The Rugby World Cup Limited (RWCL), the company organising the event, has been very thorough in preparing to protect its rights.

RWCL has a large number of registered trademarks worldwide relating to the Rugby World Cup in general and the RWC23 specifically. Taking the UK as an example, below is a list of the words and logos that are protected in the UK:

  • RUGBY WORLD CUP FRANCE 2023 – logo with and without words (in different colours)
  • FRANCE 2023 – stylised word mark
  • RUGBY WORLD CUP – logo
  • RUGBY WORLD CUP – word mark

Any commercial use of a registered trademark in advertising risks infringing that mark. For example, an advert for your own products which then includes the above marks and/or makes reference to the RWC23 has a high likelihood of being trademark infringement, and you can expect to be contacted by RWCL because you will be seeking a financial gain from the use of its rights.

2. Know your official sponsors

As with any big sporting event, organisers will proactively seek to enforce their intellectual property rights to protect the event and to avoid angering their sponsors, who will have likely paid a large sum of money to gain exclusive advertising rights. Sponsors will want to know that they are getting value for money and are not being overshadowed by competitors that are not official sponsors.

If you are a competitor of an official sponsor, the risk to any advertising referencing RWC23 is significantly higher than if you are not, because your competitors will likely be watching your advertising and promotions. If there is no official sponsor in the sector you operate, the risk may be lower, and you might have an opportunity to secure some last-minute official advertising at the event (if it is something you are interested in pursuing).

A ruck of household names is sponsoring RWC23 including, but not limited to, MasterCard, Emirates, Canon, and Meta. The full list can be found via the official Rugby World Cup 2023 website.

3. Do you need to refer to the RWC23?

You should always consider whether referencing RWC23 is an integral part of your marketing campaign. Could the same message be relayed without referring to the specific event?  For example, you could create content referring to a 'rugby union tournament' instead of using any RWC23 registered rights.

If your advertising is in proximity to a venue being used for the event, it may not be necessary to allude to RWC23 at all because you will already be benefiting from the footfall of fans and spectators.

If you must to refer to the tournament, you can limit the use of the mark to what is necessary. If you reference the tournament purely for descriptive purposes, the risk of infringing rights is considerably lower than if you seek to promote yourself using RWC23 intellectual property rights.

4. Avoid ambush marketing

Ambush marketing is an attempt by an unauthorised party to take advantage of the high media profile of an event, team or individual, through deliberate marketing activity and without paying any licence or sponsorship fee, at the expense of another company's official association with the event, team or individual.

Attempts at ambush marketing are prominent at major sporting events, and notable examples include:

  • The 2010 Ryder Cup: The well-known betting chain, Paddy Power, had to remove a 270ft unofficial promotional sign placed outside the boundary of Celtic Manor Golf Course in Wales.
  • The 2005 Wimbledon Championships: Event organisers prevented spectators from bringing Palmolive-branded bottles of water into the Wimbledon grounds, despite the bottles being handed out for free at the entrance, as one of the official sponsors of the Wimbledon Championships was Buxton Water.
  • The 2006 World Cup: FIFA officials made Dutch spectators remove their orange lederhosen, which advertised Bavaria beer, leaving them having to watch the rest of the match in their underwear.

5. If in doubt, seek legal advice!

Before running a marketing campaign which seeks to gain from an association with the RWC23, it is vital to seek legal advice.

If you're still uncertain about what terms can be used in relation to your business during the RWC23 and require further information, we're happy to help, so please get in touch.

If you would like more content discussing advertising and corporate sponsorship in relation to major sporting events, please watch our on-demand webinar, Playing by the rules, or read some of our other articles covering similar significant events:

NOT LEGAL ADVICE. Information made available on this website in any form is for information purposes only. It is not, and should not be taken as, legal advice. You should not rely on, or take or fail to take any action based upon this information. Never disregard professional legal advice or delay in seeking legal advice because of something you have read on this website. Gowling WLG professionals will be pleased to discuss resolutions to specific legal concerns you may have.