Jan 2021

Use of NFL Trademarks Now and During the Super Bowl

Super Bowl LV in Tampa, Florida will look different this year.  It is the first Super Bowl being played during a global pandemic.  History will also be made when Sarah Thomas becomes the first woman to officiate a Super Bowl.  Tom Brady will be returning to the Super Bowl, but as a Buccaneer and not a Patriot.

However, my annual Super Bowl trademark advisory does not change.  The NFL is a force to be reckoned with when protecting their brand.  This year is no different.  Even in Covid times, sponsors will still be paying the NFL millions of dollars to be associated with the America’s biggest game, the Super Bowl.  Super Bowl sponsorships are the NFL’s biggest revenue generator and businesses are always vying to be a part of it and are willing to spend lots of money.  The NFL is protective about its sponsor relationships and the NFL does not hesitate to send out threatening letters when it becomes aware of trademark infringement.

However, there are ways non-sponsors can use the fun of the Super Bowl in their advertising without getting into big trouble.  The trick is to work with an experienced attorney to learn the “dos” and “don’ts.”  One absolute “don’t” is the use of team names, logos, Super Bowl Sunday, and Super Sunday, and many more. These marks are exclusively reserved for use by the official NFL sponsors.

To be clear, it is always okay to use these marks in an editorial way when you are talking about the Super Bowl.  For example, “I watched the Chiefs beat the Browns on the road to the Super Bowl LV.”  The problem is when you are using these marks to promote your business in advertising.  You cannot say, “Come get your Super Bowl LV special at Joe Smith’s car dealership.”

One thing that is okay to include in a business promotion is to include the names of cities of the teams.  It is okay to say, “Come get your Kansas City special at Joe Smith’s car dealership.”  Another thing that is permitted is to congratulate your team on winning or making it to the Super Bowl.  For example, it’s okay to put up a billboard that says, “Joe Smith’s car dealership wishes the Tampa Bay Buccaneers good luck in Super Bowl LV.”

A fun fact is that you are allowed to make fun of the fact that you cannot say Super Bowl or team names.  Many businesses have come up with creative and funny ways to do this in their advertising.  The bottom line is that businesses are limited to their advertising tying in the Super Bowl if they are not official sponsors, but with some creativity and legal help businesses can have fun with what they are left to use without running afoul of trademark infringement.

If you need any guidance on this issue please contact Carrie Ward at (856) 354-7700 or cward@earpcohn.com.