Consumer Protection and Sport

Sport organisations, profit and non-profit, are subject to same laws that protect consumers from unfair trading practices and unconscionable conduct as any other business. People who pay for the right to participate in organised sport events, or use sporting facilities or to receive other services related to their sport involvement must be viewed as consumers who have legal rights.

It is only very rarely that sport organisations are charged with deliberately breaching consumer protection laws but there is plenty of potential for accidental infringement. It is for this reason that sports managers must have a cursory knowledge of the consumer protection laws.

The main issues that administrators of sport organisations and businesses should be aware include:

Failure to supply a program or service

From time to time, sport administrators may accept payment in advance for services to be rendered. Then, due to circumstances, find that the service cannot be provided or can only be provided partly. Usually, if the organisation refunds the consumer then there is no reason for complaints to be raised with relevant government agencies. However, it is quite possible that consumers may incur significant travel or other expenses to attend the program or event. Therefore sport administrators have to think carefully about what happens if an event or service is cancelled at short notice. An example might be that an organisation offers the availability of specialist coaching from a leading coach. However, on the day of the event or program, the coach does not attend.

Misleading advertising

Promoting programs, services and events is a normal task of sport managers. Common methods of promotion include websites, printed brochures, posters and correspondence. There is always the potential for such written materials to contain accidental errors or inaccurate descriptions upon which a consumer makes a decision to purchase. The consumer may then feel they have been unfairly "fooled" into purchasing. The problem with this type of case is that descriptions of services may be borderline correct. The consumer will feel the description was incorrect while the promoter disagrees and thinks the description of the service was fair and reasonable. In such circumstances, the matter can only be settled via legal action on the part of the consumer.

Requests for refunds

For various reasons, consumers may ask for the money back. This may be because the consumers is:

Many retail organisations now have a policy of issuing refunds for whatever reason given by the consumer. Such a policy not only maintains good customer relations but may also save on costs. However, there is only a limited number of reasons why a vendor of a service is required by law to issue a refund to a customer. These reasons are:

  1. The program or service cannot be supplied
  2. Advertisements for the program or service were false or misleading e.g. the vendor organisation claimed the program or service was endorsed by a notable sporting identity, which it was not.
  3. Good sold are unfit for purpose e.g. purchased sport equipment broke as a result of defects
  4. The consumer purchased a program or service based on what they saw but the actual program or service they received was significantly different.

Offering prizes in fundraising activities

If an association organises and promotes a lottery (also known as a raffle or in Australia an "art union"), it will offer certain prizes for winners of 1st place, 2nd place, 3rd place, etc. A description of these prizes will be printed on the lottery tickets. If the actual prizes are materially different when the drawer takes place, the association can be accused of making false representations and this would contravene legislation that protects consumers. For example, if the association advertised the 1st place prize as 100cm LED television but the actual prize awarded was only 80cm, the winner would have cause to make a complaint to the relevant government agency that oversees consumer protection laws.

A particular worrisome form of deceptive and illegal conduct that could be carried out is that the 1st place or another prize is never given out because the winner is a fictitious person and the drawer is rigged i.e. not properly carried out. This would be more than a contravention of consumer law and would in fact be fraud.

Engaging in bait advertising

Bait advertising is that form of promotion when an organisation offers discounts on certain product lines, or to the first 10 people. Another strategy is to offer a special prize to one person drawn randomly who is a ticket holder in an sporting event. These are a common forms of promotion. There is plenty of potential for mistakes to be made, and even commit fraud. As an example, a major league football(soccer) club offered a new car every home game to one ticket holder who had 10 minutes to claim the prize after the announcement. The problem occurred one week when the winner could not claim the prize within the allotted 10 minute period because they were not actually in the stadium. They could make the match that week. The prize was redrawn and awarded to someone else. However, the original winner claimed rightly that the rules and conditions of the lottery made no mention of the need to be present at the match. Although this was just a mistake, it was costly to the Football Club.

Failure to inform participants of risks

It is generally well understood that participation in sport often carries a certain amount of risk. However sport organisations should be careful to avoid misleading potential participants that there is no risk or low risk i.e. using word like "it is a safe sport". Many consumers might make purchase decisions about which sport their children play based upon opinions given about the level of safety in the sport.



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