Recent incidents at the UEFA Euro 2020 football tournament have highlighted how player’s actions can impact a tournament’s contractual obligations towards its sponsors.
In a post-match conference after Portugal’s victory over Hungary, Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo removed two bottles of Coca Cola, a Euro 2020 official sponsor, from the table and encouraged viewers to drink water instead. The following day, a similar incident arose; France and Manchester United midfielder, Paul Pogba, removed a Heineken beer bottle from the table. In the same week, Italy’s Manuel Locatelli hid Coca Cola bottles originally placed on the table in front of him.
UEFA, the tournament owner, initially responded by noting that players were entitled to select their preferred beverage. However, the UEFA tournament director has since announced that contractual obligations to sponsors formed part of the Regulations of the UEFA European Football Championship (Tournament Regulations), to which each participating national football federation agreed. UEFA has emphasised the important role that sponsors, such as Coca-Cola, play in developing football across Europe, including the underage and women’s game.
Article 63.09 of the Tournament Regulations state: ‘Each participating association must support and ensure that its players, coaches, officials and other employees support the commercial programme established by UEFA to exploit the marketing rights to the final tournament, including the promotional programmes run by UEFA and its commercial affiliates…’
Furthermore, Article 6.01 of the Tournament Regulations provides that ‘The associations are responsible for the behaviour of their players, officials, members, supporters and any person carrying out a function at a match on their behalf.’
UEFA also commented that it has considered the possibility of imposing fines to sanction those who do not abide by these contractual obligations. Article 51 of the Tournament Regulations provides that the provisions of the UEFA Disciplinary Regulations (Disciplinary Regulations) apply for all disciplinary offences. Article 6 of the UEFA Disciplinary Regulations allows fines to be imposed on member associations or clubs. UEFA does not intend to fine players directly. Instead, it may impose sanctions on the national football association. It will then be at the discretion of the national footballing authority whether they wish to discipline any player who breaches the tournament rules on sponsorship. UEFA took no disciplinary action after these particular incidents but has not ruled out the possibility of future punishment in the event of further similar issues.
The above-mentioned players’ actions demonstrate the balancing act required of tournament organisers such as UEFA. The balance exists between protecting the rights of sponsors in compliance with contractual obligations, and considering appropriate action against national football associations that breach their tournament obligations and potentially threaten UEFA’s contractual obligations to its sponsors. Striking the right balance has become a real challenge where celebrities and athletes may be hesitant to endorse products that are not aligned with their own personal values.
UEFA’s announcement marks an interesting turning point in the world of sports advertisement, whereby teams and their players could face significant financial penalties for breaching contractual obligations.
Contributed by Sean Kelly and Patrick Murphy