For several years, I have posted guidelines about engaging in or accepting advertising or promotions that directly or indirectly reference the Super Bowl without a license from the NFL (see, e.g. our articles here and here).  It’s that time of year again, so here is an updated version of my prior posts.

The Super Bowl means big bucks.  It is estimated that each of the three television networks that broadcasts the Super Bowl pays the NFL over $1 billion per year for the right to broadcast NFL games through 2022, including the right to broadcast the big game on a rotating basis once every three years.  The investment seems to pay off for the networks.  The Super Bowl broadcast alone generates hundreds of millions of dollars for the networks from advertisers.  In addition to the sums paid to have their commercials aired (reported to be approximately $5.6 million for a 30-second spot), many advertisers spend more than $1 million to produce each ad.  In addition, the NFL receives hundreds of millions of dollars from licensing the use of the SUPER BOWL trademark and logo.

Given the value of the Super Bowl franchise, it is not surprising that the NFL is extremely aggressive in protecting its golden goose from anything it views as unauthorized efforts to trade off the goodwill associated with the game.  Accordingly, with the coin toss almost upon us, advertisers must take special care before publishing ads or engaging in promotional activities that refer to the Super Bowl.  Broadcasters and news publishers have greater latitude than other businesses, but still need to be wary of engaging in activities that the NFL may view as trademark or copyright infringement.  (These risks also apply to other named sporting events, for example, making use of the terms “Final Four” or “March Madness” in connection with the upcoming NCAA Basketball Tournament – see, for instance, our articles here and here.)
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For several years, we have posted guidelines about engaging in or accepting advertising or promotions that directly or indirectly allude to the Super Bowl without a license from the NFL. It’s that time of year again, so here is an updated version of our prior posts.

The Super Bowl means big bucks. It is estimated that each of the three television networks that broadcasts the Super Bowl pays the NFL over $1 billion per year for the right to broadcast NFL games through 2022, including the right to broadcast the big game on a rotating basis once every three years. The investment seems to pay off for the networks. The Super Bowl broadcast alone generates hundreds of millions of dollars for the networks from advertisers. In addition to the sums paid to have their commercials aired (reported to be approximately $5 million for a 30-second spot), many advertisers spend more than $1 million to produce each ad. In addition, the NFL receives hundreds of millions of dollars from licensing the use of the SUPER BOWL trademark and logo.

Given the value of the Super Bowl franchise, it is not surprising that the NFL is extremely aggressive in protecting its golden goose from anything it views as unauthorized efforts to trade off the goodwill associated with the game. Accordingly, with the coin toss almost upon us, advertisers must take special care before publishing ads or engaging in promotional activities that refer to the Super Bowl. Broadcasters and news publishers have greater latitude than other businesses, but still need to be wary of engaging in activities that the NFL may view as trademark or copyright infringement. (These risks also apply to other named sporting events, for example, making use of the terms “Final Four” or “March Madness” in connection with the upcoming NCAA Basketball Tournament.)
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For many years, we have posted guidelines about engaging in or accepting advertising or promotions that directly or indirectly allude to the Super Bowl without a license from the NFL. We are at that time of year again, so here is an updated version of our prior posts.

The Super Bowl means big bucks. It is estimated that each of the three television networks that broadcast the Super Bowl pay the NFL in excess of $1 billion per year for the right to broadcast NFL games through 2022, including the right to broadcast the big game on a rotating basis once every three years. Of course, the game generates hundreds of millions of dollars for the networks from advertisers. In addition to the sums paid to have their commercials seen (approximately $5 million for a 30-second spot), many advertisers spend more than $1 million to produce each ad. In addition, the NFL receives hundreds of millions of dollars in income from licensing the use of the SUPER BOWL trademark and logo.

Not surprisingly, the NFL is extremely aggressive in protecting its golden goose from anything it views as unauthorized efforts to trade off the goodwill associated with the game. Accordingly, with the coin toss almost upon us, advertisers need to take special care before publishing ads or engaging in promotional activities that refer to the Super Bowl. Broadcasters and news publishers have greater latitude than other businesses, but still need to wary of engaging in activities that the NFL may view as trademark or copyright infringement. (These risks also apply to the use of “Final Four” or “March Madness” in connection with the upcoming NCAA Basketball Tournament.)
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Last year, we posted some guidelines about engaging in or accepting advertising or promotions that directly or indirectly alludes to the Super Bowl without a license from the NFL. We are at that time of year again, so here is an updated version of our prior post.

In addition to the monies it receives annually for the right to broadcast the Super Bowl, the NFL receives more than $1 billion in income from licensing the use of the SUPER BOWL trademark and logo. Not surprisingly, is extremely aggressive in protecting its golden goose from anything it views as unauthorized efforts to trade off the goodwill associated with the game. Accordingly, with the coin toss almost upon us, advertisers need to take special care before publishing ads or engaging in promotional activities that refer to the Super Bowl. Broadcasters and other news publishers have latitude to use the phrase “Super Bowl” in their news and other editorial content, but they need to wary of engaging in activities, particularly in advertising and promotion, that the NFL may view as trademark or copyright infringement. (These risks also apply to the use of “Final Four” or “March Madness” in connection with the upcoming NCAA Basketball Tournament.)

Simply put, the NFL views any commercial activity that uses or refers to the Super Bowl to draw attention as a violation of its trademark rights. Many of the activities challenged by the league undoubtedly deserve a yellow flag. However, the NFL’s rule book defines trademark violations very broadly. If anyone were willing to throw the red flag to challenge the league’s position, a review from the booth might reverse some of those calls.
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With the Super Bowl fast approaching, broadcasters and other media companies are planning advertising and promotions around the big game.  Here is some advice to broadcasters from Mitchell Stabbe, a lawyer from my firm who has spent over 30 years counseling businesses on trademark issues, about legal cautions to consider in finalizing your plans:

In addition to the monies it receives annually for the right to broadcast the Super Bowl, the NFL receives more than $1 billion in income from licensing the use of the SUPER BOWL trademark and logo.  Not surprisingly, it is extremely aggressive in protecting its golden goose from anything it views as unauthorized efforts to trade off the goodwill associated with the game.  Accordingly, with the coin toss almost upon us, advertisers need to take special care before publishing ads or engaging in promotional activities that refer to the Super Bowl.  Broadcasters and media organizations have slightly greater latitude than other businesses, but still need to wary of engaging in activities that the NFL may view as trademark or copyright infringement.  (These risks also apply to the use of “Final Four” or “March Madness” in connection with the upcoming NCAA Basketball Tournament.)

Simply put, the NFL views any commercial activity that uses or refers to the Super Bowl to draw attention as a violation of its trademark rights.  Many of the activities challenged by the league undoubtedly deserve a yellow flag.  However, the NFL’s rule book defines trademark violations very broadly.  If anyone were willing to throw the red flag to challenge the league’s position, a review from the booth might reverse some of those calls.  But, unless you are ready to take on the NFL in that fight, proceed with caution. 
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With the college football champion now decided, and the NFL league championships this coming weekend to decide this year’s Super Bowl teams, it’s that time when we post our warning about being careful with using the phrase “Super Bowl” in your promotions and commercials.  Both copyright and trademark issues can arise at Super Bowl time.  Trademark is usually the biggest concern, as there are always issues when broadcasters and advertisers don’t watch their commercials and promotions to avoid improper uses of a trademarked phrase like “Super Bowl.”  But copyright issues can also arise when broadcasters or others make a commercial use of part of the game’s TV coverage, or hold commercial paid viewing parties where proper rights to display the telecast has not been obtained.

First the trademark issues that arise not only with the Super Bowl, but also with other big brand events like March Madness which will begin to be hyped soon after the Super Bowl.  As we do every year when the Super Bowl and March Madness roll around, we remind broadcasters to scrutinize their advertising and promotions to avoid anything that appears to imply a tie-in with any of these events – especially where the trademark-protected name of the event is used in the ad or promotion itself. (See past articles here, here and here). 
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With the league championship match-ups set, and the Super Bowl only 3 weeks away, broadcasters are once again getting ready for the onslaught of advertising opportunities that come with the big game. But, as we write every year at this time, broadcasters need to be extremely careful in using the term "Super Bowl" in any advertising by a sponsor who has not been authorized to use that term. Super Bowl is a trademarked term, meaning that its use, particularly for commercial purposes, is limited. Trademarked terms should not be used in commercial messages except by authorized advertisers. These advertisers have paid big bucks to be able to say that they are a Super Bowl sponsor. See this article from the New York Times about the pricing of Super Bowl advertising. As the NFL enforces its trademarks rigorously (so that they can get the big bucks from the official advertisers), don’t risk their use without official permission.

This does not prevent all discussions of the Super Bowl on the air. News reports about the game can still air, using the name of the game. DJs can still chat about who is going to win the Super Bowl. But don’t try to commercially exploit these terms (e.g. saying that you are "Springfield’s Super Bowl station") unless you really have really the rights to use the trademarked term. Be careful, as a cute promotional idea can end up costing your station far more than you intended.


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With the Super Bowl and the Winter Olympics less than 2 weeks away, and March Madness not far behind, we once again need to remind our readers that all three are trademarked terms, meaning that their use, particularly for commercial purposes, is limited.  We’ve wrote here last year about the use of the term "Super Bowl" in commercials, and about the use of "Olympics" two years ago (here).  Our warning then bears repeating now – the trademarked terms should not be used in commercial messages except by authorized advertisers.  These advertisers have paid big bucks to be able to say that they are an Olympic sponsor, or that they are having a Super Bowl sale.  The holders of these trademarks enforce them rigorously (so that they can get the big bucks from the official advertisers), so don’t risk their use without official permission.  See our Super Bowl post from last year for details on how to refer to these events without running afoul of trademark limitations.

As we wrote last year, this does not prevent all use of these terms.  News reports about the events can still be given.  DJs can still chat about who is going to win the Super Bowl, or about the latest judging controversy in Ice Dancing at the Winter Olympics.  But don’t try to commercially exploit these terms (e.g. saying that you are "Springfield’s March Madness station") unless you have really paid for the rights to use the trademarked term.  Be careful, as a cute promotional idea can end up costing your station far more than you intended. 


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