The COVID-19 pandemic has created unprecedented upheaval and turmoil in the world of sport similar to many other industries. Whilst the media spotlight has largely been on the cancellation or postponement of events in elite sport, such as the 2020 Olympic Games, there has been little focus on the events and races aimed at amateur athletes and the general public which have also been put on hold as a result of COVID-19.
In recent years there has been a phenomenal growth in the number of people of all ages embracing sporting challenges with more sports events than ever aimed at the ‘mass participation market’, such as running events (including 10kms, half marathons and marathons), cycling sportives, triathlons, open water swimming events and adventure races amongst others.
The COVID-19 crisis has forced many event organisers to cancel or rearrange the events which they intended to deliver in 2020. As we look ahead to the easing of lockdown in the coming weeks and months, now is a good time for event organisers to assess their operations in light of COVID-19 to ensure they are suitably prepared from a legal perspective for amateur events and races to resume and more widely in the longer term in order to safeguard their business.
Whilst there are many variables associated with different types of events (such as the location, the format and the number of participants involved), organisers face many of the same legal issues which underpin the successful delivery of such events and the stability of their business.
Below we take a look at some of the key legal issues which event organisers should consider now and in the weeks and months ahead:
#Event Terms and Conditions
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused many event organisers to examine their ‘terms and conditions of entry’, particularly regarding their position on event postponement, cancellation, deferrals and refunds. Participants too have been eagerly reading event organisers’ terms and conditions, which in most cases they will have signed up to quite some time ago, and some event organisers have come under criticism from aggrieved participants.
Irrespective of COVID-19, an event organiser must always make it clear in its terms and conditions of entry what the position is: if the event cannot be held on the scheduled date and is postponed to another date; if the event is cancelled and cannot be re-arranged; whether entry deferrals are allowed; and whether refunds will be given.
Normally terms and conditions of entry will deal with ‘force majeure’ events, however, it is important that these provisions are drafted correctly to enable an event organiser to rely on them, whether it is a pandemic or another unforeseen occurrence which has prevented the event from taking place such as bad weather.
A person signing up to participate in a sports event does so as a consumer, so event organisers must comply with consumer law, as well as other applicable legislation. For example, if a disclaimer is included in the terms and conditions, an event organiser cannot exclude liability for death or personal injury caused by its negligence. Terms and conditions of entry underpin an event organiser’s business so it is important to ensure that these terms are clear for participants and well drafted so they are legally robust if challenged.
Successful event organisation often involves an array of contractual arrangements with a number of different companies/individuals, for example, participants (see above), event partners/sponsors, suppliers and staff. Additional contractual arrangements may also be required as event organisers manage the challenge of organising events in light of COVID-19 and social distancing requirements for the foreseeable future once amateur sports events are permitted to resume.
For certainty, all contracts should be in writing to ensure that each party involved understands exactly what is expected of them and to allocate risk between them. Where possible, event organisers might want to consider introducing their own standard terms of business with suppliers to put themselves on the front foot when making arrangements for their event.
The pandemic has shown the importance of robust contracts and the need to consider/cover-off ‘worst case scenarios’ within the context of different commercial arrangements (e.g. force majeure provisions and seeking to ‘future proof’ new commercial agreements going forward).
Many event organisers engage an array of personnel to deliver a successful event, including employees, casual workers and volunteers. COVID-19 has created upheaval in the workforce of most industries and event organisers have been significantly affected. As the country emerges from lockdown, it is important to consider whether current contracts of employment with staff and arrangements with casual workers are ‘fit for purpose’ going forward, giving an events business sufficient flexibility, whilst ensuring compliance with employment law.
The Government’s ‘Corona Virus Job Retention Scheme’ (i.e. ‘Furlough Scheme’) has been extended until 30 September 2021 so this may continue to provide support for event organisers who have placed their staff on furlough leave. Alternatively in the event redundancy arrangements or other reorganisation measures are being considered, employers must ensure the correct processes and procedures are followed.
Event organisers must comply with data protection laws, in particular the Data Protection Act 2018 and the UK General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which since Brexit, incorporates the EU GDPR into English law. Therefore, event organisers as ‘data controllers’ are still bound by the same data protection obligations as applied under the EU GDPR, including in relation to the collection, processing, use and storage of participants’ personal data. In this regard, it is important that an event organiser has a suitable data protection policy in place and takes appropriate steps to safeguard participants’ personal data and correctly uses such data, including in connection with marketing communications.
#Digital Media (including Event Websites and Apps)
Where third parties are involved with the creation and development of digital media for an event (for example an App), it is important to ensure that the ‘ownership’ of this has been properly documented and where applicable transferred to the event organiser to reduce the scope of disputes arising in the future.
#Sponsorship / Intellectual Property
Often an important source of revenue for a sports event organiser is through sponsorship/partnership arrangements, which may be secured from a wide range of sources and also which may involve product/service supply elements. An event organiser should have a defined marketing programme in place so as to be able to maximise the commercial opportunity their event offers. This might involve different ‘tiers’ of sponsors/partners who are obtaining rights to associate themselves with the event (for example, a title sponsor along with other sponsors and suppliers, with different ‘packages’ of rights being granted and with different degrees of ‘exclusivity’).
Where an event has a logo and/or a name that is central to an event organiser’s ‘brand’ and event marketing strategy, then intellectual property rights (such as trade marks) are typically very valuable business assets as they can help distinguish an event from competitors, as well as being central to the commercialisation of the event.
If you would like more information or advice on any of the points raised above or on any other legal issues in connection with events, please contact Deirdre McCarthy (Senior Associate), Centrefield LLP – DeirdreMcCarthy@centrefield.law – or call 0161 672 5460.
Please note the information contained in this briefing is intended as a general review of the subject featured and is not intended as specific legal advice.