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Focused on Protecting Businesses and Representing the Injured

Why “Superbowl” is Not “The Big Game”: A Trademark Showdown

  “Superbowl.”  “The Big Game.”  “Football Championship.”

Isn’t the word, “Superbowl” the sexiest, most powerful of the three?  In anticipation of the Pittsburgh Steelers squaring off against the Green Bay Packers at the Cowboys Stadium this Sunday, why are restaurants, retailers, and the hospitality industry using any other word to describe their happy hours, sales, and promotions?  The answer:  trademarks.

The word, “Superbowl,” has been a registered trademark since 1969, and is owned by the National Football League.  The NFL’s commercial spots are not only the most famous, but the most expensive in the nation.  Advertisers compete for the funniest, most entertaining commercials.  Everyone knows that Budweiser, Coke, and GoDaddy ads will be the ones to watch for.  Personally, I hope eTrade Baby makes an appearance.

With that said, the NFL does not want people using the word, “Superbowl” without paying a license fee.  Furthermore, the NFL doesn’t want to be associated with just any business.  For instance, if some dingy hole in the wall bar used the word, “Superbowl” to advertise their alcohol specials, those disappointed patrons might think that the NFL endorsed a bar that was more of a health hazard than a watering hole.

In the weeks leading up to this year’s Superbowl, I guarantee that NFL had their legal team scouring Dallas to see who may be using the coveted word “Superbowl” without permission, or more importantly, without paying.  I also guarantee that many Dallas businesses got a strongly-worded Cease and Desist notice from the NFL.  The Superbowl was in Jacksonville in 2005, and I noticed a skyrocketing influx of calls from Duval and surrounding counties to handle these Cease and Desist letters.

Should these businesses respond to these Cease and Desist notices?  Should they continue to use the trademark, and hope that they are too small a fish for the NFL to bother frying?  When it comes to a corporate giant like the NFL, my advice is:  don’t tangle with them.  Send a response!  While I can think of many legitimate ways to strike back at the NFL on my clients’ behalf, the NFL could–and would–take down a Mom N’ Pop’s lifetime of investment and work, and still sleep well at night.

Personally, I think the names, “The Big Game” or “The Football Championship” are hokey.  As an Intellectual Property attorney, though, I don’t see any other alternative for the businesses in the Superbowl host cities to promote their goods and services, short of actually signing a license deal.  I would love to hear any creative solutions out there!

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