march madness in advertising

  • The FCC issued a Notice of Apparent Liability proposing to fine Nexstar Media Group,
  • Each year, as the NCAA basketball tournaments get underway, my colleague Mitch Stabbe highlights the trademark issues that can arise from uses of the well-known words and phrases associated with the games in advertising, promotions, and other media coverage. Here is Part I of his review. Look for Part II tomorrow.

    The last few years have filled with changes in college sports.  Teams that have been part of a conference for decades have decided to jump to another conference, with movement of different schools from or to the Big 12 Conference, the Big Ten Conference, the Pac 12, the Atlantic Coast Conference, the Southeastern Conference and others.  In addition, we are starting to see the consequences of the NCAA finally allowing athletes to monetize the commercial use of their name, images and likenesses, now called “Name, Image and Likeness” (NIL) and previously described as the Right of Publicity.

    One thing that has not changed is the NCAA’s hard line against unauthorized uses of FINAL FOUR or its other marks.  Thus, broadcasters, publishers and other businesses need to be wary about potential claims arising from their use of terms and logos associated with the tournament.

    NCAA Trademarks

    The NCAA owns the well-known marks March Madness®, The Big Dance®, Final Four®, Women’s Final Four®, Elite Eight,® Women’s Elite Eight®  and The Road to the Final Four® (with and without the word “The”), each of which is a federally registered trademark.  The NCAA does not own “Sweet Sixteen” – someone else does – but it does have federal registrations for NCAA Sweet Sixteen® and NCAA Sweet 16®.Continue Reading Guard Yourself Before Moving Forward When Accepting or Engaging in Advertising or Promotions that Use FINAL FOUR or Other NCAA Trademarks:  2024 Update – Part I

    Yesterday, I wrote about the history of the NCAA’s assembling of the rights to an array of trademarks associated with this month’s basketball tournament.  Today, I will provide some examples of the activities that can bring unwanted NCAA attention to your advertisements or broadcasting of advertising, as well as one more issue that should be

    With Selection Sunday this weekend, the 2023 NCAA Collegiate Basketball Tournament is about to begin.  As faithful readers of this blog know, broadcasters, publishers and other businesses need to be wary about potential claims arising from their use of terms and logos associated with the tournament.

    NCAA Trademarks

    The NCAA owns the well-known marks March Madness®, The Big Dance®, Final Four®, Women’s Final Four®, Elite Eight,® and The Road to the Final Four® (with and without the word “The”), each of which is a federally registered trademark. The NCAA does not own “Sweet Sixteen” – someone else does – but it does have federal registrations for NCAA Sweet Sixteen® and NCAA Sweet 16®.

    The NCAA also has federal registrations for some lesser-known marks, including March Mayhem®, March Is On®,Midnight Madness®, Selection Sunday®, 68 Teams, One Dream®, And Then There Were Four® and NCAA Fast Break®. (It also has a registration for SPRING MADNESS®in connectionwith its soccer tournaments.)

    Some of these marks are used to promote the basketball tournament or the coverage of the tournament, while others are used on merchandise, such as t-shirts.  The NCAA also uses (or licenses) variations on these marks without seeking registration, but it can claim common law rights in those marks, such as March Madness Live, March Madness Music Festival and Final Four Fan Fest.Continue Reading March Madness and Advertising: Use of NCAA Trademarks (2023 Update – Part 1)

    Here are some of the regulatory developments of significance to broadcasters from the last week, and a look ahead to events of importance next week, with links to where you can go to find more information as to how these actions may affect your operations.

    • The Media Bureau this week released the first of what

    Yesterday, I wrote about the history of the NCAA’s assembling of the rights to an array of trademarks associated with this month’s basketball tournament.  Today, I will provide some examples of the activities that can bring unwanted NCAA attention to your advertisements or broadcasting of advertising.  But, first, I will discuss yet one more issue that should be considered.

    Endorsements by Individual Student-Athletes

    After many years of litigation, in July 2021, the NCAA suspended its policy prohibiting college athletes from profiting from their names, images and likenesses (“NIL”) (or their right of publicity) without losing their eligibility.  However, there is no national set of rules as to what is permissible.  Rather, the right of publicity is governed by state law.  Moreover, colleges and universities still have the right establish some rules or standards.  For example, although student-athletes can now get paid to endorse a commercial product, they are not automatically entitled to use any NCAA or school trademarks.  Thus, a college basketball player may not be authorized to wear their uniform in advertising unless the school has granted permission.  Can the player wear a uniform with the school colors, but no names or logos?  Can the player endorse an alcoholic product?  Answers will vary state by state and school by school, so it will be extremely important to check with experienced counsel before running any advertising that involves college players.

    Now, back to the game …
    Continue Reading NCAA Tournament Advertising:  Use of Trademarks and … One More Thing (2022 Update – Part 2)

    With the 2022 NCAA Collegiate Basketball Tournament about to begin, as faithful readers of this blog know, broadcasters, publishers and other businesses need to be wary about potential claims arising from their use of terms and logos associated with the tournament (see, for instance, our articles last year about this same time, here and here).  In addition, starting this year, there is another issue to consider, which I will discuss tomorrow.

    NCAA Trademarks

    The NCAA owns the well-known marks March Madness®, The Big Dance®, Final Four®, Women’s Final Four®, Elite Eight,® and The Road to the Final Four® (with and without the word “The”), each of which is a federally registered trademark.  The NCAA does not own “Sweet Sixteen” – someone else does – but it does have federal registrations for NCAA Sweet Sixteen® and NCAA Sweet 16®.

    The NCAA also has federal registrations for some lesser known marks, including March Mayhem®, March Is On®, Midnight Madness®, Selection Sunday®, 68 Teams, One Dream®, And Then There Were Four®, and NCAA Fast Break®.

    Some of these marks are used to promote the basketball tournament or the coverage of the tournament, while others are used on merchandise, such as t-shirts.  The NCAA also uses (or licenses) variations on these marks without seeking registration, but it can claim common law rights in those marks, such as March Madness Live, March Madness Music Festival and Final Four Fan Fest.
    Continue Reading NCAA Tournament Advertising:  Use of Trademarks and … One More Thing (2022 Update – Part 1)

    While the NCAA has called off March Madness, promotions may still be continuing, and we certainly hope that the tournament will be back again next year.  So we figured that, as this article was already written, we might as well publish it.  Yesterday, we wrote about the history of the NCAA’s assembling of the rights to an array of trademarks associated with this month’s basketball tournament.  Today, we’ll provide some examples of the activities that bring unwanted NCAA attention to your operations.
    Continue Reading March Madness Trademarks:  Avoiding a Foul Call from the NCAA (2020 Update)(Part 2 – Even if the Tournament is Off)

    With the NCAA Basketball Tournament about to begin (though without an audience at the games), broadcasters, publishers and other businesses need to be wary about potential claims arising from their use of terms and logos associated with the tournament, including the well-known marks March Madness®, The Big Dance®, Final Four®, Women’s Final Four®, Elite Eight,® and The Road to the Final Four® (with and without the word “The”), each of which is a federally registered trademark.  The NCAA does not own “Sweet Sixteen – someone else does – but it does have federal registrations for NCAA Sweet Sixteen® and NCAA Sweet 16®.

    The NCAA also has federal registrations for some lesser known marks, including March Mayhem®, March Is On®, Midnight Madness®, Selection Sunday®, 68 Teams, One Dream®, And Then There Were Four®, and NCAA Fast Break®.  The NCAA has a pending application to register March to the Madness as well.

    Some of these marks are used to promote the basketball tournament or the coverage of the tournament, while others are used on merchandise, such as t-shirts.  The NCAA also uses (or licenses) variations on these marks without seeking registration, but it can claim common law rights in those marks, e.g., March Madness Live, March Madness Music Festival and Final Four Fan Fest.

    Although the NCAA may use the federal registration symbol (®) with any of its federally registered marks, it is not obligated to do so.  Thus, it should not be assumed that the lack of the symbol means that the NCAA is not claiming trademark rights.
    Continue Reading March Madness Trademarks: Avoiding a Foul Call from the NCAA (2020 Update – Part 1)

    Alternate Title: March Madness Trademarks: It’s March Spring and You Do Not Want to Make the NCAA Mad Angry at You

    As we have previously reported, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) is very serious about taking action against anyone who may try to trade off the goodwill in its March Madness marks — even if the NCAA’s actual marks are not used. For example:

    • Readers may recall that the NCAA filed a trademark infringement action in 2017 against a company that ran online sports-themed promotions and sweepstakes under the marks “April Madness” and “Final 3.” The defendant stipulated to an order providing that it would cease using those marks at least until the end of the year, but the order did not provide for dismissal of the case. The defendant failed to file an answer to the complaint and the NCAA was granted a default judgment, after which it filed a motion requesting an award of attorneys’ fees against the defendant in the amount of $242,213.55. In May 2018, the Court awarded attorneys’ fees in the amount of $220,998.05.
    • The NCAA sued a car dealership that had registered and was using the mark “Markdown Madness” in advertising. (The case was settled.)
    • Even schools that are part of the NCAA are not immune from claims of infringement. Seven years after the Big Ten Conference started using the mark “March Is On!,” the NCAA opposed an application to have that mark federally registered. (Ultimately, the opposition was withdrawn, the mark was registered, but the registration was assigned to the NCAA.)

    These actions illustrate the level of importance that the NCAA places on acting against the use of trademarks which seek to create an association with its annual Collegiate Basketball Tournament. Clearly, such activities continue to carry great risks. Accordingly, following is an updated version of our prior blog posts on this subject.

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    With the NCAA Basketball Tournament about to begin, broadcasters, publishers and other businesses need to be wary about potential claims arising from their use terms and logos associated with the tournament, including March Madness®, The Big Dance®, Final Four® or Elite Eight,® each of which is a federally registered trademark. March Mayhem® is also registered to the NCAA, which is currently seeking to register March to the Madness.

    The NCAA Aggressively Defends Against Unauthorized Use of its Trademarks

    The NCAA states that $844.3M of its annual revenues derives from the licensing of television and marketing rights in the Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament. Moreover, its returns from the tournament have historically grown each year. Most of this income comes from broadcast licensing fees. It also has a substantial amount of revenue from licensing March Madness® and its other marks for use by advertisers. As part of those licenses, the NCAA agrees to stop non-authorized parties from using any of the marks. Indeed, if the NCAA did not actively police the use of its marks by unauthorized companies, advertisers might not feel the need to get a license or, at least, to pay as much as they do for the license. Thus, the NCAA has a strong incentive to put on a full court press to prevent non-licensees from associating their goods and services with the NCAA tournament through unauthorized use of its trademarks.
    Continue Reading March Madness: Nothing but Net for Trademark Infringement Claims