The nation is turning its attention to the NFL playoffs, which will lead to one important game: the Super Bowl. The league has a trademark on the words “Super Bowl” that it has no qualms about protecting. In the coming weeks, you might notice companies running advertising promotions related to “The Big Game” or “The Pro Football Championship” to avoid receiving a cease and desist letter from league executives. You might be wondering why the NFL would want to protect this championship’s name so vehemently, and what your company can and cannot publish about it. When it comes to event references, caution is the name of the game.
If you’re going to associate your company with the Super Bowl, you have to be willing to pay a hefty price. It only makes sense; the game is one of the most watched television events of the year, so competition is fierce to get brands in front of millions of viewers. It’s not just the commercials that cost a pretty penny: sponsorships for the game give companies exclusive rights to label themselves as the official sponsor of their category. These companies are allowed to use the trademarked name, while others are not. This prevents any confusion as to who is officially affiliated with the game.
When a company infringes on a zealously protected trademark, they can expect some legal pushback. In 2013, a man named Roy Fox intended to create clothing items with the words “Harbaugh Bowl” on them (a reference to the fact that the opposing coaches for the Super Bowl were brothers). The NFL filed an opposition to this move and pressured the man to give up his efforts or face a battle in court against the league’s lawyers. This situation sounds intimidating, right? It’s arguable whether the name “Harbaugh Bowl” is similar enough to the actual event name to confuse people. Fox eventually backed down in order to avoid costly legal fees, but the implications of his actions were clear: anyone thinking about using NFL intellectual property for their own gain needs to be wary of the consequences.
There’s nothing wrong with taking advantage of the Super Bowl buzz to attract customers; you just have to be mindful of where the NFL draws the line for what constitutes its intellectual property. Unless you are an official sponsor, do not use the exact name of the event for advertising. You can use the event name if you are simply discussing it in a conversational manner, such as mentioning who’s playing on social media. If you have a product or service, it must be clear that it is not associated with the NFL. As we mentioned before, you can always fall back on code words, such as “Game Day,” to imply the event without actually naming it. Depending on your industry, the game may be a great event to latch onto for promotions.
Of course, informational pieces of content are not barred from mentioning the name of the big event, which is why we can write “Super Bowl” in this article. There’s no denying it, these two words are impactful because the event is essentially an American holiday at this point. Businesses should understand the Super Bowl trademark rules before using the name in any context with their brand. If you’re on the fence about using the name, it’s best to err on the side of caution and look for alternative options. A vague reference to the game is better than an explicit demand to stop breaking rules.