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Sportspersons beware - play ball with the Competition and Markets Authority or face the consequences

Posted on 31 July 2019

Sportspersons beware - play ball with the Competition and Markets Authority or face the consequences

The impact social media influencers wield over consumers’ buying decisions has recently been high on the Competition and Market Authority’s (CMA’s) agenda.

As well as publishing a quick guide for social media influencers around transparency and honesty, and staying on the right side of consumer law, the CMA’s investigation into whether influencers are clearing disclosing paid-for endorsements has led to sixteen social media stars – including celebrities such as Alexa Chung, Ellie Goulding, Rosie Huntington-Whitely and Rita Ora, having to provide voluntary undertakings to make it clear when they have been paid or otherwise incentivised to endorse a product or service and to generally ensure that the "likes" they get on social media, are for products they actually like.

Whilst stars of the film and theatre industry have been the targets of CMA investigations thus far, and in response have started to show a greater sensibility to the consumer and competition law consequences of their posts, a brief scroll through Instagram makes it clear that celebrities in the Sports industry, many whom benefit from lucrative sponsorship agreements, have not kept up.

Whilst Louise Thompson, influencer and the reality star of Made in Chelsea who currently has 1.2 million followers, was investigated by the CMA and subsequently made a voluntary undertaking, last year’s PFA footballer of the year Mohamed Salah has avoided the CMA’s attention so far, even though he currently boasts 25 million followers. An example of a post of Salah’s which may be sponsored can be seen here. In defiance of the CMA’s guidance on the topic, the post, which may breach consumer protection laws, tags Adidas’ official Instagram feed but neither declares the existence of a ‘paid partnership’, nor acknowledges the post as an advertisement by prominently displaying the hashtag #ad. If Salah is paid for promoting Adidas, the CMA may therefore have grounds to argue that his flagging of the paid partnership is not 'transparent, easy to understand, unambiguous, timely and prominent'.

Although they have not yet been investigated by the CMA, influencers in the sports industry who have hundreds of thousands or millions of followers, such as Salah, are at risk of being found to have contravened laws of consumer protection and competition. To protect themselves, they should develop a clear, transparent and consistent policy to signalling the promotion of brands in their posts to consumers, in consultation with the CMA’s guidance on the topic. If in doubt, influencers should take pre-emptive legal advice to prevent such a risk of non-compliance.

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