Consumers, Ronaldo and Cryptocurrency
In our June update we are looking at the British Airways flight refund investigation and the power of ever-present Cristiano Ronaldo’s brand and image rights. We also report on cryptocurrency platform Binance being banned by The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA).
British Airways and Ryanair under CMA investigation regarding flight refunds
The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has launched an investigation against British Airways and Ryanair after concerns that both airline companies broke consumer law by refusing to refund customers for flights that they could not legally take due to coronavirus restrictions.
During period of lockdown restrictions where non-essential travel in the UK was unlawful, the two airlines failed to offer customers their money back for flights they were unable to take, instead offering vouchers or the opportunity to rebook. The CMA is concerned that this unfairly left customers out of pocket.
The investigation does not intend to look into flights which were cancelled by the airline company itself, with most airline companies having the view that such instances warrant a full refund to the customer. Instead, it is considering those which were able to go ahead but which many customers were not legally able to take due to, for example, the ban on non-essential travel. It comes after the regulator conducted an investigation earlier in the pandemic into holiday accommodation which lead to a number of firms changing their refund policies after initially refusing to give customers their money back for stays which were cancelled due to the lockdown.
British Airways and Ryanair are not the first companies to be investigated over coronavirus refund policies, with the CMA securing refund promises from a number of travel companies including TUI, Virgin, Hoseasons and Cottages.com. It remains to be seen what the outcome of this latest investigation will be but it serves as some comfort for the many consumers who are currently out of pocket.
Ronaldo and changing face of football sponsorship
This month, in the midst of Euro 2020, Cristiano Ronaldo made headlines for his actions off the field as well as his performances on the pitch. Before addressing the media in a press interview, Ronaldo removed the two product placement bottles of Coca-Cola from the view of the camera before declaring ‘drink water’. The following night France’s Paul Pogba followed suit by removing a bottle of Heineken 0.0. It was reported that, as a direct result of Ronaldo removing the Coke bottles, $4 billion was wiped of Coca-Cola’s market value the day after, showing the sheer power of the Portuguese icon’s image and brand.
Clearly some football stars have become bigger brands than the clubs, tournaments, and football associations they are part of. Ronaldo currently has 300 million followers on Instagram, which dwarfs his current club Juventus who have 49.3 million. Sponsors need to be aware of the power and image attached to players as well as the nature of sport they choose to sponsor, with it being particularly important when using product placement. Brands need consider how culturally powerful sports stars are in the age of social media and direct interaction with fans. IKEA were quick to react to the news, revealing new clear water bottles appropriately named the ‘Cristiano’, showing just how widespread and influential athletes’ brand can be.
In a move that supports sponsors UEFA stepped in following Ronaldo and Pogba’s actions stating that it will fine the national teams of players who move drinks provided by sponsors during media engagements. UEFA pointed out that partnerships with brands are integral to the delivery of the tournament as well as its further reach in the development of grassroots football and the women’s game.
Both Ronaldo and Pogba’s actions raise questions over the direction of sports marketing and sponsorship. In recent years, football supporters have mobilised against the rise of gambling sponsorship in the game, something the UK government has supported. This month also saw Norwich City cancel a one-year shirt sponsorship deal with online casino BK8 after backlash from fans, who were concerned at Norwich’s association with a gambling firm that had a history of sexualised marketing. If more high-profile athletes like Ronaldo and Pogba follow suit perhaps alcohol and fizzy drinks corporations could also be phased out of sport. Ultimately athletes are promoting healthier lifestyles to a younger generation and they are wanting to reflect this through the brands they are associated with. The Ronaldo example shows that given the value of some player’s image rights, they can to an extent control the brands they work with.
However, there is also an alternative analysis. A senior brand manager for Budweiser considered the flip side, in that there is still a connection between beer and football with many fans enjoying alcoholic beverages whilst watching football. By attempting to hide the products Ronaldo and Pogba inadvertently increased the brands exposure instead, with both Coca-Cola and Heineken receiving various free publicity in the aftermath.
Binance.com is an online centralised exchange that offers users a range of financial products and services, including purchasing and trading a wide range of digital currencies, as well as digital wallets, futures, securities, savings and accounts and even lending.
The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) has ruled that the firm cannot conduct any ‘regulated activity’ in the UK. The FCA has also issued a consumer warning about Binance.com, advising people to be wary of adverts promising high return on cryptoasset investments. However as Binance’s existing crypto exchange is not UK based (currently based in the Cayman Islands), despite the FCA ruling, there will be little impact on UK residents who wish to use the website to purchase and sell cryptocurrencies.
It is important to note that the FCA does not regulate cryptocurrencies, but it requires exchanges to register with them. Binance has not registered with the FCA and therefore is not allowed to operate an exchange in the UK. This FCA ruling comes amid a pushback from regulators around the world against cryptocurrency platforms.
At face value the FCA move to bar Binance will have little impact as its will not prevent many UK customers from using its exchange based in the Cayman Islands to buy and sell cryptocurrencies. However the FCA is sending a strong message that it is concerned about the dangers of investing in crypto in general. One reason for this may be concerns over the potential for crypto to be used as a cover for criminal activity.
Binance has until the 30th June to stop any form of UK advertising and to comply with the ruling.