Just one year out and questions on RWC ‘clean zones’ still to be answered

DHL announced its sponsorship of the Rugby World Cup today (and to celebrate Grant Fox kicked a rugby ball off the Skytower). And while the rules for the tournament’s official sponsors seem fairly clear, media owners, media buyers and the host of other companies that haven’t forked out but are hoping to jump on the RWC marketing bandwagon are still waiting to find out from the government how the Major Events Management Act (MEMA) could affect marketing activities, particularly when it comes to out-of-home media.

About four months ago, Nigel Keats, managing director at OMD Wellington (which bought a big load of outdoor media space in order to offer clean stadia as part of New Zealand’s bid), said he was playing the role of “meat in the sandwich” between OMD’s client Rugby NZ 2011 (and its sponsors) and the Ministry of Economic Development (MED). Back in May, some were under the impression the exclusion zones reserved for official sponsors could stretch for two kilometres around each stadium.  One piece of bread, Rugby NZ 2011, has settled on a distance of 500m. But the other piece, the MED’s legislative side, remains unbuttered and has yet to make its final decision.

Keats has already reported his findings to members of the Outdoor Media Association of New Zealand and says the “complicated process” is slowly making progress. It’s not fast enough for some, however: obviously, with a supposed RWC gold rush on the cards, media owners are very keen to get it sorted and sell their space, while companies (either sponsors or non-sponsors) are keen to book their schedules, so there is still some frustration that decisions on how the clean stadia and transport zones would be enforced, how some of the MEMA terminology would manifest itself and what kind of exceptions were allowed haven’t been cemented yet.

“We have to be careful. We can’t make any presumptions about what [the MED]might do,” Keats says. “…It’s a new process for people to get their heads around. We’re not used to having advertising legislation in this country.”

Keats says the delay from the MED might be because this ruling will set a precedent for other large events in the future, like this year’s Rowing World Cup or maybe America’s Cup events in the future.

Despite concerns from some media owners about draconian MEMA restrictions, MED communications Emilia Mazur said in May the determinations were likely to be “less of a burden to businesses than feared by some”. Ambush marketing will be policed heavily to protect the official sponsor’s interests, of course, but if Rugby NZ 2011 is happy with 500m, there doesn’t seem to be any logical reason for the MED to disagree with it.

Still, Mazur says the MED is working towards having the RWC clean zones declared within this month or by early October. But no determinations have yet been made on the specific areas that will be declared. And, in what could be seen as the addition of even more complications to the mix, she indicated it could be a case of different distances for different stadiums.

“It is unlikely that there will be a standard radius from each venue to which the clean zones will extend,” she says. “Instead the shape and size of clean zones will most likely vary from venue to venue depending on the nature of the environment in which the venue is located.”

When it comes to clean zones around major transport routes (state highways, motorways and railway lines that are likely to be used by a substantial number of people to travel to a game), the legislation says it can extend up to a maximum of what seems to be a rather excessive five kilometres. The MED’s decision on whether that will be enforced or reduced to a more realistic distance is also pending.

Mazur says the clean period for these restrictions can only be the time that a RWC event is taking place and a reasonable period of time before and afterward. So it’s quite possible that some clean periods may be limited to the day of a RWC match, which could possibly create a few headaches for media owners.

When it comes to the exceptions to clean stadia or transport routes, everyone still seems to be waiting for clarification. And it’s still the terms ‘reasonable’ and ‘ordinary’ that are creating the confusion. Exceptions are allowed if, “in accordance with honest practices in industrial or commercial matters, the advertising is done by an existing organisation continuing to carry out its ordinary activities”.

“With regard to ‘ordinary activities’, restrictions that apply in clean zones will not apply to advertising done by an existing organisation continuing to carry out its ordinary activities,” Mazur says. “This means that existing businesses that do not put up new advertising, or alter their existing advertising for RWC, will be able to continue as normal. Whether an organisation’s advertising falls within the exception will ultimately be a question to be determined in the particular circumstances of each case.”

Advertising on buses that usually travel inside the exclusion zones, for example, is likely to be exempt.

Keats says there are two very different areas in this issue: demand within the exclusion zones and demand outside the exclusion zones (of course, sponsors can also buy space outside the exclusion zones). He says it’s still unclear which companies will be using the outdoor media in the exclusion zones. But, not surprisingly, there is high demand for space, and where there is great demand, there is often inflated prices.

The Auckland Airport isn’t included in the RWC exclusion zones and Robbie Dery, general manager of Eye Fly Australia New Zealand, says demand in the lead-up to the cup “far surpasses anything we have seen previously”.

“Following on from renewals of existing airport advertisers, this month EYE has been engaged with key Rugby World Cup sponsors to develop unique consumer experiences for advertisers. The exclusive advertising opportunities being created at Auckland are a reflection of the strong partnership between EYE and Auckland Airport and the commitment from both companies to provide our clients with world class engagement opportunities.”

Aside from the many restrictions around RWC marketing, there’s also the law of diminishing returns to consider. There will almost certainly be a host of generic ‘show your support’ campaigns on the agenda, both from sponsors and other hangers-on, but how many of them can one small nation realistically sustain? And with everyone else trying to make hay while the sun shines, marketing campaigns are going to have to be pretty special to rise above the rabble.

You can check out the MEMA guidelines here. And here’s a thorough run-down from James & Wells lawyers on the ways marketers can leverage the event and stay within the rules.

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