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Monday, February 26, 2024

Sauber faces legal challenge over F1 team name

Sauber is facing a legal challenge over the title sponsorship of its Formula 1 operation. Image: Sauber
Sauber is facing a legal challenge over the title sponsorship of its Formula 1 operation. Image: Sauber

The Swiss team launched its 2024 season on Monday in a ceremony in London.

In doing so, it unveiled a new black and green look with title sponsorship from an online casino.

“This year, we will see our team change in many areas, thanks to this important partnership with Stake, which is one of the leading entertainment and lifestyle brands in the world,” said team representative Alessandro Alunni Bravi as part of the launch of its C44.

The team also described its title sponsor as “an umbrella brand used by its group on multiple business industries, including Clothing, Fashion, Sports News, Social Casinos and Gambling.”

It adds that its casino platforms experience over 80 billion transactions a year, with five million registered users globally.

Legislation surrounding online casinos and gambling varies across territories, with some having little to no restrictions while others have outlawed advertising or even prohibited their ability to trade in that country.

Australia has adopted the latter approach to online casinos, as has Switzerland, where the team is based.

Despite that, the branding appears on the team’s website, social media platforms, and team apparel.

According to Schweizer Radio und Fernsehen, the Swiss Federal Casino Commission has commenced proceedings against Sauber.

The concern is not the advertising itself but how it has been absorbed into, and taken over, the team’s identity.

“Sponsoring would be allowed. In the present case, the brands Stake and Sauber are so linked together, or the term Stake is so strongly imprinted in the minds of viewers, that we have probably crossed the red line into unauthorised advertising,” said Patrick Kraeuskopf, a professor of competition law at the Zurich University of Applied Sciences, in the SRF report.

Under Australian law, incidental (or accidental) coverage of online casinos is one of the comparatively few reasons such advertising would be permitted.

The argument then falls to whether an entity that has been deliberately branded with such a service and acknowledges the issue given its intent to change branding at some events, is considered incidental.

Should Sauber be found in breach of the legislation, it faces a financial penalty of up to 500,000 francs (just under AUD $880,000).

It is estimated the title sponsorship deal could be worth as much as AUD $75 million.

While that is ongoing, the team continues to brand itself Stake F1 Team, though it concedes that it will have to change its commercial title when competing in territories where legislation would prohibit that.

There, it’s expected the squad would rebrand and omit any branding associated with online gambling.

It will create the curious case of a team racing as one entity at some races and Kick F1 Team at another.

Sauber is one of two overly commercialised team names in 2024, both of which have caught the eye of F1 itself.

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