Take off your trousers, they're offending our sponsor
For Netherlands football fans it has become the summer’s cult outfit. Over the past few months, a quarter of a million Netherlands supporters have bought themselves a pair of patriotic orange lederhosen—wearing them whenever Holland take to the pitch in the World Cup.
But when Netherlands fans turned up on Friday to watch their team play the CÃ´te d’Ivoire, wearing the garish trousers, officials from Fifa were not amused.
The lederhosen carry the name of a Dutch beer, Bavaria.
The only problem is that the Dutch brewery which makes Bavaria is not an official World Cup sponsor.
And so, in one of the most surreal incidents of the World Cup so far, stadium officials in Stuttgart made the supporters take their trousers off—leaving many of them to watch The Netherlands’ 2-1 victory in their underpants.
“They put our trousers in the bin,” said an aggrieved Peer Swinkels, the chairperson of Bavaria, The Netherlands’ second biggest brewery. “Fans going into the stadium had to dump them in a big container. Fifa said that the supporters could get them back afterwards. But the container was full of rubbish so most people didn’t bother. I understand that Fifa wants to protect its sponsors. But this is very strange.”
Critics say the decision to make more than 1 000 Netherlands fans strip off last Friday is evidence of the extraordinary lengths to which Fifa has gone to protect the interests of World Cup sponsors—at the expense of ordinary fans. Fifa, however, says it has done nothing wrong and is entitled to defend itself against what it calls “ambush marketing”.
Either way, there is little doubt of the seemingly unlimited power that sponsors now wield over global sporting events—with British politicians controversially voting to give sponsors a major role in the 2012 London Olympics.
Fifa said its six suppliers and 15 official partners—among them Yahoo!, McDonald’s and the American brewery that makes Budweiser—had spent â,¬700-million on the tournament. Without their money, it would be impossible to stage the competition, it said.
But the zeal with which Fifa guards its commercial interests has gone down badly with fans—as has its decision to offer 14% of all match tickets to sponsors. Only 8% have gone to national football associations.
“It’s ridiculous,” said Sjoerd Schreurs, a supporter who had to take his trousers off. “I queued for 25 minutes to get in. When I reached the front, an official told me: ‘You’re not getting in like that’. I took my trousers off. I managed to chuck them over the fence to some friends. But another official spotted them and took them away.’”
“I watched the game in my pants,” Schreurs (33) added. “Fortunately I had quite a long T-shirt.”
Swinkels dreamed up the idea of orange Leeuwenhose, or lion trousers, last year. Fans who purchased 12 cans of Bavaria beer could buy the trousers for just â,¬7,95 (they come with the tail of a lion, Holland’s national symbol, and two extra large pockets for storing beer cans).
The Netherlands’ biggest brewery, Heineken, the official sponsor of the Dutch football association, didn’t like the trousers either. It took legal action against Bavaria but lost—after a Netherlands judge ruled that fans could wear whatever they wanted.
Swinkels has written to Fifa’s president, Sepp Blatter, asking whether fans would have to remove their trousers again when The Netherlands take on Argentina on Wednesday in Frankfurt. “Since when can a sponsor determine what supporters wear?” he wrote, pointing out: “Orange clothing and symbols are part of the national heritage of The Netherlands.”
But some industry experts say Fifa’s intervention was no surprise. Nigel Currie, chairperson of the European Sponsorship Association, said: “My view is that if there is a deliberate attempt to ambush an event, it should be stamped on.”
Currie, who is also director of the sports marketing agency brand Rapport, said: “Sponsors pay huge amounts of money and it is all about TV exposure. If people are caught on screen drinking the wrong kind of drink, it is unhelpful to sponsors. But it should come down to commonsense and a sense of proportion.”
There were also allegations on Sunday that England supporters at last Thursday’s Trinidad and Tobago match were forced to hand over Nike clothing at the entrance of the stadium in Nuremberg, because Adidas—the German sportswear giant and Nike’s deadly rival—is the official World Cup sponsor. On Sunday night, however, Fifa denied that any Nike clothing had been confiscated.
“There are no special rules regarding clothing at the World Cup. Visitors can wear their normal clothing or replica shirts with or without advertising, irrespective of the manufacturer or sponsor’s logo,” a Fifa spokesperson said. This was true of “individuals” but not of groups, the spokesperson continued.
Some of the most contentious debate during the passage of the London Olympics Bill through the Commons surrounded clauses designed to prohibit illicit use of the words “Olympic Games”, “London 2012” and the ringed symbol.
Lobbyists for the advertising industry believed the measures—insisted upon by the International Olympic Committee—were draconian. The Bill prevents non-sponsoring businesses trying to cash in on the games by suggesting a link with the Olympics in their advertising.
Locog, the London organising committee, supports the clampdown as necessary for it to raise the Â£2-billion to stage the games. It is searching for four sponsors, each to contribute at least Â£50-million.
On Sunday night Schreurs, was searching for a new pair of trousers. “When I tried to get them back they had gone. Holland and Germany haven’t always had the easiest of relationships. It’s funny to wear them in Germany if you’re Dutch.”
Sponsors play hardball with the corporately incorrect
- The softdrink police were on patrol during the Cricket World Cup in South Africa in 2003. Pepsi was one of the event’s four commercial partners and stewards searched fans’ coolboxes for its rival’s fizzy drinks. A Johannesburg businessman was evicted from one game for drinking a can of Coca-Cola. “I was told it was against the law,” he said. “It is unacceptable that law-abiding citizens be browbeaten and summarily ejected for quietly drinking a beverage that is not approved of by the official sponsors.”
- Pepsi also ruled at the 2004 Champions Trophy cricket tournament trophy, where matches were played throughout England. Fans were issued with a list of drinks and snacks they could take into grounds. Pepsi and its family of drinks, such as Tango, 7 Up and Abbey Well mineral water, were acceptable, but no other brands were permitted. There were also restrictions on fruit juices, iced teas and energy drinks. Only Walkers crisps were permitted. Walkers is owned by PepsiCo.
- In March 1998 Greenbriar high school in Evans, Georgia, United States, sponsored a Coke In Education Day, with the whole curriculum built round Coca-Cola, including an economics lecture by the company’s executives and lessons on baking a Coca-Cola cake during the home economics class. The climax of the day was a school photograph in which all students pictured wore red and white Coca-Cola T-shirts spelling out the word Coke. At the last moment, however, one student, Mike Cameron, spoilt the fun by pulling off his shirt to reveal a Pepsi-plugging shirt beneath. He was suspended from the school as punishment.
- The Raja Casablanca football team was fined $15 000 in 2002 when its team members wore Coca-Cola logos on their shirts in the Caf (ConfÃ