With the Super Bowl coming up, it is important for brands looking to capitalize on football-themed promotions to remember that the terms “Super Bowl” and “Super Sunday” are registered trademarks guarded by the National Football League (NFL) more closely than a shutdown corner on a wide receiver.
Because there is a fine line between permissible fair uses of Super Bowl and Super Sunday (e.g., in on-air banter and news and sports reports) and impermissible promotional uses that may infringe the NFL’s trademark, here are some guidelines to keep you from going “offsides:”
- Avoid promotional association. Do not mention the Super Bowl or use the Super Bowl logo in your advertisements, social media posts, labeling or packaging in such a way that the viewer, listener or consumers may infer a relationship between your food or beverage brand or products and the NFL that does not exist. Unless you secure a license from the NFL, you cannot use any advertisement of that nature. For example, you cannot say, “Your go-to beverage for the Super Bowl,” or even “We have all your Super Bowl party needs.”
- Additional prohibited terms and logos. In addition to “Super Bowl” and “Super Sunday,” do not mention, or use the logo of “NFL,” “AFC,” “NFC,” “National Football League,” “American Football Conference,” or “National Football Conference.”
- Educate advertisers and marketing companies. Your advertisers or marketing vendors may want to organize tie-in promotional events with the Super Bowl, like “XYZ Super Sunday Sweepstakes.” Tell your vendors that the NFL is likely to send both you and them a nastygram (at a minimum) if they associate your brand or productions commercially with the big game.
- Be careful with events. Don’t use the Super Bowl or Super Sunday name in sponsoring or promoting gameday-related events, such as “XYZ’s Super Bowl Party.”
- Apply the same caution to teams. All NFL team names (e.g., “Bengals,” “Chiefs,” etc.) and nicknames (and logos), like “Super Bowl,” are registered trademarks, so the same considerations of avoiding promotional association apply. Even using team colors could draw the ire of the NFL.
Some creative ways that brands have tried to keep both feet in bounds in their promotions include using statements such as “The Big Game,” “The Big One,” “Gameday,” “Gametime,” “The Big Matchup,” “Football’s Favorite Day”; referencing the date of the game (e.g., “The February Football Finale”), the names of the cities/states of the teams competing in the Super Bowl (e.g., “Cincinnati” or “Kansas City”); or making fun of the fact that they are prohibited from mentioning “Super Bowl” (e.g., by bleeping it out or by saying “the game that shall not be mentioned”).
The Super Bowl is not the only sports event around the corner that presents marketing opportunities for brands. The 2022 Winter Olympics and Winter Paralympics beginning on February 4th and March 4th, respectively, create an international stage for the best athletes and marketing campaigns. Similar to the NFL, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee (USOPC) have strict rules and guidelines for use of its trademarks, name, and other intellectual property. Both the IOC and USOPC sell sponsorships and licenses for use of their intellectual property. The key to a gold-medal marketing campaign is to stay away from using the well-known symbol comprised of five interlocking circles, the Olympic motto “Faster, Higher, Stronger,” the term “Olympic,” “Olympian,” or “Beijing 2022.” Use of these symbols, or any other intellectual property or indicia of the IOC or USOPC, without a license will almost inevitably result in cease and desist letters, and even possible statutory and civil damages. Brands can avoid skiing down the slippery slope of Olympic marketing mistakes by disclaiming any affiliation with or sponsorship of the IOC and/or USOPC, recognizing that some names, logos, and trademarks may be off-limits without a license, and ensuring proper use of any third-party intellectual property.
Remember, advertisers literally pay millions of dollars to be associated with the Super Bowl, the Olympics and the Paralympics. Their willingness to pay reflects the substantial commercial goodwill that the NFL, IOC, and USOPC has developed. The NFL, IOC, and USOPC persistently protect their investments by policing unauthorized use of their trademarks.
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