Since the NFL is known to be sue happy with small businesses, bars, restaurants, and caterers that use the term “Super Bowl” on marketing materials, we decided to research the topic so marketers would know how to get around this issue. We’ll break down the Social Media Rules for the Super Bowl so that you don’t get in trouble with the NFL.
Social Media Super Bowl Rules
The term “Super Bowl” is a registered trademark owned by the National Football League. You can discuss the Super Bowl and do news stories about the event while referring to it as the Super Bowl, but promotional announcements should avoid use of that trademarked term, and refer to it as the “Big Game” or some other word variation that does not include the words “Super Bowl” or “Super Sunday.”
When it comes to news stories about the game, the use of the term “Super Bowl” is permitted, but the NFL will take action against third party attempts to use that term commercially to sell goods and services. This is because commercial sponsors pay the NFL to be the official beer or computer for the Super Bowl. Commercials can refer to the “Super Bowl” as the “Big Game” or any other term that does not include the words “Super Bowl” or “Super Sunday.”
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For example, Anheuser-Busch shelled out $1.2 billion to the NFL for a six-year NFL league sponsorship pact to be their official beer sponsor. “This deal is a very dramatic signal to [A-B’s] system of wholesalers and distributors,” said the company’s former sports and media chief Tony Ponturo. “This was a big statement from corporate headquarters to its distribution network that it’s going to keep feeding its brands.”
Without this sponsorship, Anheuser-Busch would be unable to supply its wholesalers with Super Bowl point-of-sale advertising to secure retail floor space. And the value of this paid sponsorship would be worth little to nothing if the NFL didn’t promise its sponsors they would pursue all violators.
In a 2007 case involving Super Bowl XLI, the NFL sent a cease and desist letter to an Indiana church group that had advertised its Super Bowl party and announced their intent to charge admission. The letter led to several other church groups around the country to stop similar activities.
When contacted about lawsuits brought by the NFL, a league spokesman explained: “If they know about the Indiana church and they don’t do anything, then the next time a case like this is brought against them, there would be nothing they could do because it would be looked at as selective enforcement and they would waive their rights to enforce their trademark.”
In the past, the NFL tried to stop Super Bowl parties shown on large TV screens, because they viewed it as an enforcement of the NFL’s copyright in the game. But the NFL no longer tries to stop Super Bowl parties unless there is a charge assessed for admission to see the game.
Anyone planning a TV Super Bowl party will not be violating copyright as long as you do not charge admission to see the game. And the sale of food and drinks is fine, just as it is in bars across the country on the day of the Super Bowl.
***As always, this blog is not a replacement for legal advice. If you have questions or before starting any marketing efforts around the big game, you should consult your lawyer.