The joint organisers of the 2007 Rugby World Cup, Rugby World Cup Limited (“RWCL”), a subsidiary of the International Rugby Board (“IRB”) and the State-backed French “Rugby World Cup 2007” entity (a Groupement d’intérêt public or “GIP”) comprising the French Rugby Board, the French government and the French National Olympic Committee, were delivered a perfect tackle just before the start to the World Cup. On 14 May 2007, the Paris Commercial Court held in favour of competitors of the World Cup’s official partners for hospitality services.
The exclusive right to market “hospitality corporate packages” was jointly granted to nine tour operators
For the World Cup, RWCL and the GIP’s ticketing programme distinguished between the sale of tickets to individuals and the sale of tickets aimed at companies. As regards the latter, the terms and conditions of each ticket provided that customers can only purchase tickets offered to them as part of “hospitality packages”, comprising of a ticket for entry into the stadium and other corporate hospitality services such as accommodation, transportation, entertainment and catering.
In 2004, the organisers awarded to the “RTH’07” consortium of companies the exclusive right to market hospitality services for the World Cup. This consortium then selected nine official and exclusive agencies.
Some of the tour operators which were not selected, including the English group, Marcus Evans and the company, Cup Ticketing Est (“CTE”), decided to proceed with the rival sale of hospitality packages. The organisers, seeking to challenge this parallel activity relating to the sale of these services, brought an action against these ambushers before the Paris Commercial Court.
The Claimants accused the Defendants of performing acts of unfair competition and of ambushing their activities by benefiting from the popularity of the World Cup in spite of not holding a right to offer these services and to market these tickets. Furthermore, they accused them of infringing their copyrights as they broadcast footage of the games, and breaching the terms and conditions of the tickets sold.
The hospitality industry is governed by the general and constitutional principle of free unrestricted trade
The Court held in favour of the Claimants in relation to copyright infringement: the rival companies had planned to broadcast unauthorised videos of the matches in public places and courtesy vehicles. However, the Court rejected the claim regarding the strict prohibition on the promotion and sale of hospitality services in connection with the World Cup.
The Court stated that the criterion for determining whether there had been a violation of the exclusivity for the sale of hospitality packages granted by RWCL and the GIP to the nine selected agencies via RTH’07 was whether or not the packages included the sale of tickets. Based on inquiries conducted by a private firm of investigators, the Court found that the Defendants did not include the sale of entrance tickets in their hospitality packages, and based its decision on the constitutional principle of the freedom of trade. Accordingly, it held that the companies which were not selected as part of the nine, were entitled to offer catering, accommodation and/or transportation services, given that these are activities usually offered by various service providers during a tournament or other large-scale events.