The Birds, the G.O.A.T. and Trademarks, Oh My!
Updated: Apr 2, 2018
My husband called me yesterday morning chuckling to himself. One thing that you have to know about him is that he loves his Philadelphia Eagles. Our basement is painted “Eagles Green” with the official NFL paint. It is a serious relationship and I respect it. As the world’s biggest Eagles fan, he decided to buy a cake to celebrate the Eagles seat to the Super Bowl. To his chagrin, he was taken off guard when Costco called to tell him that they could not put “Eagles” or “Super Bowl” on his cake as he requested. Instead, they would decorate his cake with “Go Birds!” I tell him about how serious the NFL treats the protection of its trademarks all of the time. Costco finally made my point for him. Thanks, Costco!
There are very few certainties in life, but one thing you can count on is the that the NFL will enforce its trademarks. It is clear that Costco corporate has hammered this home with its employees.
Each year sponsors pay the NFL millions of dollars to be associated with the juggernaut. Sure, the NFL makes money from all sorts of sources from ticket sales to merchandise sales, but its bread and butter comes from selling sponsorships to advertisers. It is big business and sold at a premium with all sorts of advertisers vying for these spots every year. This is why the NFL is adamant about protecting its trademarks. Who can blame them?
So, how can businesses (who are not “official” sponsors of the NFL) talk about the Super Bowl? The answer is, very carefully. The NFL has the terms Super Bowl and Super Sunday trademarked. You cannot use these terms in any commercial context. This also includes all team names and logos. They are off limits. You can refer to these terms in a newsworthy context. For example, “Yesterday I watched the Super Bowl and what a great game between the Eagles and the Patriots.” However, the local pizza shop down the street cannot advertise a “Super Bowl” special.
You can refer to the city names of the teams. You can congratulate your team on making it to the Super Bowl. You can also make fun of the fact that you cannot say Super Bowl. That is really it.
The Winter Olympics are on the heals of the Super Bowl this year and the same trademark rules apply. The word Olympics, the “rings”, and the song are all trademarked.
If you own a business, even a small business, please take this trademark lesson into serious consideration. You can be creative and have fun with your team and the Super Bowl and Olympics, but stay away from the trademarks. If you need any guidance on this issue please contact me at (215) 366-7839 or firstname.lastname@example.org.