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The sporting event with no name

We’re all aware what a huge year this is for the UK, particularly as it encompasses the Queen’s Jubilee, a Brit reaching the Wimbledon men’s final, a British leader (and potential winner) of the Tour de France and, of course, there’s that… global sporting event.

Picture of a running trackYou know what I’m talking about. But I’m not going to say it. I daren’t. We seem to have suddenly descended into being a country that will go to war over freedom of speech, as long as it’s not speech about that sporting event.

This week has seen an army of brand police go on duty across the UK, all with the sole aim of stopping anyone talking about that sporting event in any way related to business if they have not paid many millions to be a sponsor.

They can slap fines on anyone who contravenes these ‘special’ rules, even by using common everyday words like (and I’m going to whisper here) bronze,silver and gold in the ‘wrong’ way. They can also force them to remove offending printed and online material.

Now, you can understand that those big sponsors have a tremendous value and that sporting event probably couldn’t be afforded without them. They have paid for the right to have their brands front and centre during this media frenzy. But I have to seriously doubt whether they are enjoying the consequences of the organisers of that sporting event being so officious in their policing of sponsor rights.

The whole point of coughing up any form of sponsorship, big or small, is to gain positive benefits through recognition of your brand and products and, to some extent, being seen to be the good guys who are bankrolling a lot of what’s taking place.

But when the little guys are being bullied and stamped on in your name, is that such a good thing? Sentiment starts to turn quickly against the overly corporate nature of that sporting event to which I am not referring by name. And when that happens, do you really want to be seen as one of the big, bad beasts who appears to be behind it?

Social media has changed the landscape for the sharing and building of nationwide, even worldwide, consensus. In the virtual blink of an eye a movement can start with nothing more than a popular hash tag on Twitter. A rush of negativity on Facebook has the potential to reach half of the population of the UK.

There are businesses and individuals throughout this land who have contributed with delight and enthusiasm to the infrastructure demanded to host this certain, global sporting event. Preventing them from even saying so seems to be verging on the tyrannical.

When so much money is being invested on the promise that it will benefit the entire country, don’t you think those who can benefit should be allowed to get on and do so, especially in this torrid economic climate where the slightest advantage can save jobs?

The whole tyranny started at least four years ago, in actual fact. I represented one tiny business that supplied a prop for the British contribution to the closing ceremony of said event when it was held in a country we shall refer to as ‘Cathay’.

Talking publicly about such a huge coup for such a small company wouldn’t have launched that business into the stratosphere and it wouldn’t have harmed a single sponsor. It would have been a small and interesting promotional victory for a small firm. Frankly, any business with that feather in it’s cap that didn’t attempt to capitalise in some small way would be remiss. But when we tried, the legal threats started to come.

My response? Getting them on to one of BBC Radio 4’s most popular daytime programmes to make as much noise about the issue as possible. It didn’t change the legal position, but we felt better and managed to rescue something positive in terms of exposure from an otherwise total negative. Support came from complete strangers who were appalled at the situation when it was spelled out to them on national radio.

The whole experience so far around that sporting event is making corporate culture look really bad, at a time when the banks are doing a good job of that all on their own. It is driving cynicism among the population generally. And it hasn’t even started yet.

I wouldn’t want that negativity smeared all over my brand. Perhaps it’s time for the sponsors to step in and turn some of this around, so that they can come out of the other side looking like the good guys because, right now, it’s going very much the other way.

Enjoy your sporting summer.

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