In this blog post, senior associate Khemi Salhan shares her experience of working for The Birmingham Organising Committee for the 2022 Commonwealth Games on secondment.
Having been born and bred in Birmingham I was delighted that my firm was appointed Official Legal Advisers for the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games three years ago. I was excited to be offered the opportunity to take on a secondment with the Organising Committee (OC) for the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games, where I would be part of the in-house team who were leading on the legal work for the Games and delivering an international multi-sport event.
I took over the Brand Protection Manager role from my Gowling WLG colleague in September 2021. The role focuses on regulatory and non-contentious branding issues such as licensing, and developing new, Games-specific legislation to supplement the work around the Birmingham Commonwealth Games Act 2020, which had been led by the OC’s Chief Legal Officer and DCMS.
Enforcement of the OC’s brands and practical delivery of the brand-protection programme was a priority during the event. This meant developing strategies for dealing with issues such as ticket touting, IP infringement, counterfeit merchandise, unauthorised associations, and encouraging compliance with the new legislation. Each element of the brand-protection programme aimed to protect sponsors’ exclusive rights, preserve the OC’s investment in the Games brand, and enhance the spectator experience.
To get internal support and buy-in to the brand protection programme, it was essential to have a comprehensive feel for the OC’s culture. This meant working closely with different internal teams to understand their priorities and the pressures that they were under from their external client groups. I then looked at how I could support them from a brand-protection angle.
One team I worked closely with was the communications and marketing team. The team had been tasked with generating a buzz around the Games, and building local support for the event. Spectator engagement was key to the success of the Games. One element of this was working with local businesses and community enterprises. However, sometimes businesses could become too enthusiastic and start innocently using our logo, when this is an exclusive right reserved only for official sponsors. On the brand protection side we understood that this was low level and innocent use, but it was essential that we protected our sponsor’s exclusive rights. My team worked closely with the marketing and sponsorship teams to navigate this and strike the right balance.
A continued challenge was keeping those tasked with delivering the practical elements of the Games – venue, athlete and spectator needs for example – engaged with the importance of brand protection and the legalities that come with it. Before Birmingham 2022, we worked hard to ensure that the relevant stakeholders had been briefed about the different types of obligation in place (whether contractual or legislative). Then during the Games, my team of nearly 20 legal colleagues plus additional volunteers consistently monitored competition venues for ‘rogue’ branding. This was simple enough ahead of the event, but the tendency for third-party providers to brand various items in venue required vigilant policing by the team – and a lot of gaffer tape!
As ever too, budgeting could be challenging when there are immediate or unexpected costs to be met as part of better guaranteeing delivery. It was essential that we could clearly justify any additional spend to ensure it could go ahead. This was especially important where decisions to do with rogue and unpermitted branding was concerned, given our sponsors’ exclusive rights and the legislation that had been put in place.
Whilst a considerable amount of planning had gone into how to structure the brand-protection programme, the practical demands during the Games and the immovable deadline meant that it continued to evolve during the event. The brand-protection team was flexible and adapted quickly to make sure that we met the business’ needs. This required agility and reactive working to be built into the team’s mindset and activities from the outset as there were brand protection issues to address online as well as out at the venues. Balancing these needs was no mean feat but one we overcame effectively by utilising a large team and thinking strategically about the aforementioned balance of needs.
Moving forwards, Birmingham, like any city, has always had its fair share of challenges in asserting its position as a centre for major events, business performance and transport – but the Games has really helped provide the boost needed to help in this area. I know that the excitement won’t fade; Gowling WLG is already capitalising on the business opportunities the Games has facilitated, internally, with clients and with those attracted to us as a result of its work alongside the OC legal team on this extraordinary project.
Here’s to a great legacy from the Games!