The Caribbean: National Workshop on the Optimization of Intellectual Property Rights in Sport

By Dr Justin Koo, The University of the West Indies, St Augustine, Trinidad and Tobago

The World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), in cooperation with the Intellectual Property Office of Trinidad and Tobago and the Sports Company of Trinidad and Tobago, hosted an event entitled: ‘National Workshop on the Optimization of Intellectual Property Rights in Sport’ on the 3-4 September 2019.

The two-day programme covered a wide range of themes, including sports and athletes as a product; the role of IP in sports; dissemination of sports content; sports arbitration; ‘ambush marketing’; and sports and IP as a development tool.

What was evident across the workshop was the sporting wealth available in Trinidad and Tobago and, moreover, the Caribbean. This was emphasised in relation to the Caribbean Premier League (CPL), where Chris Watson, Head of Marketing for the CPL, presented on the unique selling points of the cricket tournament for international audiences.

It was noted that, across all sports, the Caribbean punches well above its weight given its sporting successes on the international scene, notwithstanding its collectively small population.

Despite these successes, sport at the domestic/regional level suffers from poor administration, financial difficulty and a general sense of uncertainty. However, the example of the CPL has demonstrated that it is very possible to develop Caribbean sports to a self-sufficient and sustainable level. It is not necessarily the case that the CPL model or its scale be replicated, rather it demonstrates that the unique features of Caribbean sport has value and should be focused on. Notably, the carnival-style atmosphere that accompanies any major event in the Caribbean should be highlighted.

With that in mind, several of the IP- themed presentations focused on developing the IP assets intrinsic to any sporting setup. Included in these discussions were concepts such as: the importance of branding sports; sporting entities and their events; athletes owning their persona; and the need to disseminate sports through traditional broadcasting and online streaming. The reality is that sports in the Caribbean is underdeveloped in its organisation and structure. Too much reliance is placed on government funding and gratuitous sponsorship. Therefore, the efficacy of sporting organisations is volatile, especially for less popular sports.

Consequently, it was advised that sporting organisations and athletes work on developing the IP rights present in their respective disciplines and, moreover, that the enterprise be run like a business. The author of this post proposed the idea of a streaming-based business model in the context of football, whereby the streaming of grassroots football matches would create more/alternative revenue-generation opportunities. For example, it was advocated that the simple process of streaming football matches would allow for physical and digital advertising opportunities; the possibility of pay-per-view or subscription receipts; additional sponsorship; increased competition and greater accessibility. Other suggestions included merchandising and, controversially, gambling.

There is no denying that Caribbean sports are blessed with an abundance of talent raw material. Moreover, the physical and legal infrastructure is in place allowing for the exploitation of sports. However, what is required is a change in mindset that encourages sport to be treated as a business and, moreover, greater awareness that IP is a tool to be used in facilitating the development and exploitation of sporting entities and their products.

 

Dr Justin Koo may be contacted by email at ‘Justin.Koo@uwi.sta.edu