4th October 2022
Hummel, the Denmark national football team kit supplier, has “toned down” its logo and design on the team’s World Cup kit as “a protest against Qatar and its human rights record”. As shown on the Danish FA’s site, each of the logos on the home, away and third kits has been faded out. Hummel says it does not want to be “visible during a tournament that has cost thousands of people their lives. We support the Danish national team all the way, but that isn’t the same as supporting Qatar as a host nation.”
Walker Morris’ Sports Commercial & Technology lawyers Luke Jackson and Jake Phillips consider the legal and commercial implications of Hummel’s stance, including what this could mean for other sponsors.
Typical football sponsorship agreements involve various rights being granted to the sponsor. But often one of the most sought after is the ability to appear on a team’s kit as it will likely be given the most and clearest airtime. Notably, FIFA prohibits shirt sponsorship other than the kit’s manufacturers at international tournaments. This is to protect the integrity of the competition, the exclusivity of official sponsors, and to avoid countries’ ministries of sport appearing to be aligned with a particular corporation.
While FIFA’s rules also prohibit political statements on kits, Denmark’s kits appear to comply as they contain no words or symbols that are an explicit statement. Having said that, FIFA’s Supreme Committee disputes Hummel’s claim itself. Of course, there are many ongoing issues surrounding the tournament that we could talk about, but here we focus on the possible legal and commercial implications of Hummel’s stance.
With an estimated one million visitors and an enormous television following, the commercial exposure available to sponsors cannot be overstated. FIFA confirmed that the 2018 World Cup was watched by a combined 3.57 billion viewers. It estimates that 5 billion will be watching this time around. For almost a whole month, the tournament will dominate the news and online discussion, meaning that ‘being seen’ is of fundamental importance. Shirt sponsors aren’t the only means of capitalising on the event. All types of business can tap into marketing opportunities made possible by the sheer pulling power of the sport.
Separate to this established means of marketing, and whether intentional or not, Hummel will likely draw more discussion about its brand given its decision to weigh in on the debate surrounding the tournament. While Hummel has risked losing exposure in a purely visual sense, the old saying of ‘no publicity is bad publicity’ is clearly relevant.
With seven weeks until the World Cup kicks off, Hummel’s actions may yet compel other sponsors to tinker with (or at least reconsider) their strategies due to this divisive subject being so delicately poised in today’s media and the now obvious commercial possibilities. It’s therefore important for sponsors to have discussions both internally and with their commercial partners around how their current agreements operate (as we suspect may have occurred between Denmark’s football authority and Hummel).
They may consider slight variation, suspension or even termination depending on how an agreement functions and what angle a sponsor wishes to take, both within the imminent tournament but also more generally. Reputational damages provisions, publication/announcement approval processes and flexibility over exploitation of rights are all candidates for scrutiny.
If, on the other hand, formal arrangements have not yet been finalised, it’s vital that both parties to an agreement ensure they are happy with the visibility, medium and direction of a commercial partnership before committing to signature. This is another feature of negotiation in an ever-changing branch of professional sport and we would be happy to offer our insights given our wealth of experience in this area.
Walker Morris’ Sports Commercial & Technology team has lengthy and diverse experience of navigating the potential benefits and pitfalls of commercial arrangements in sport. We are available to discuss new and existing agreements in light of changing market circumstances, both in a general sense and those specific to this year’s World Cup. Please don’t hesitate to get in touch if this is something you would like to talk through.