This is a repost of an article that originally ran in 2017. It’s still relevant and worthy of your time.
Annals of IP: The Super Bowl is the biggest sporting event in America. It is the most lucrative, the most widely covered, the most highly coveted event in which to be a sponsor (so popular for advertising that many people watch the game..only for the commercials), with a thirty-second spot going for US$5.0 million (source; Bleacher Report). For that amount an advertiser has the chance to reach 114 million people with their message (no pressure, don’t blow it, just like the game).
But there’s another thing going on at the Super Bowl: it is also the most tightly controlled Trademark of the season.
A funny thing happens every year at Super Bowl time. Advertisers who want to jump on the Super Bowl bandwagon by associating themselves with the event without paying the necessary and required licensing fees are kicked to the curb, because the NFL takes it Super Bowl rights very seriously.
Understand, first, that there are two elements of IP at play here. One is copyright: the NFL owns the right to the game and rebroadcasts, presentations, etc. It’s OK to see it with friends, fine to watch it in a sports bar (that’s getting the signal legally, of course). Not fine to show it on a big screen and charge admission (that right is reserved to the league). The NFL understands that the Super Bowl is part sports event and increasingly a major social event and they have evolved and relaxed their copyright rules to enable people to enjoy the game but not abuse the IP rights of the league and its owners.
The other element in the Super Bowl IP package is trademark rights and permissions of the name itself. The name is trademarked and that’s why local (or national or international advertisers) can’t have “Super Bowl” specials or “Super Bowl” promotions–unless they’ve paid for those rights, like the sponsors of the Super Bowl do. That’s why you hear the game referred to as “the big game” or “the championship” or some other glancing reference. To understand precisely how this all works, here’s a ClickPak of articles on the IP issues surrounding America’s biggest football game.
The Superbowl trademark (Source: commonlawblog.com)
Is The Superbowl proctected by Copyright or Trademark Law (Source: BroadcastLawBlog.Com)
Superbowl Trademark Rules You Should Know (Source: BeKnownforsomething.com)
The Fine Print: Special thanks to the organizations (and the people inside them) who posted the articles referenced above about the IP of the Super Bowl. And thank you very much for sharing. One other point: if you deal in IP or media, it would be a good idea to put these sites into your bookmarks folder. Enjoy…the big game.