Legal Hotline: "Super Bowl" trademark rules

  • Jan 24, 2019

Melissa Melewsky, Media Law Counsel

Q:  What are the rules when using terms like “Super Bowl,” “Super Sunday,” and NFL team names and logos in ads?

* NOTE: this advice applies to commercial uses like advertising and marketing, it does not apply to news coverage.

A:  The terms “Super Bowl,” “Super Sunday,” as well as NFL team names and logos, are federally registered trademarks, and advertisers cannot use them without permission from the trademark holder.

A trademark is a word, symbol, design, phrase, or combination thereof that identifies and distinguishes the source of products or services provided. Trademark law establishes and vests the exclusive rights to use such marks in the trademark owner. The law is designed to protect the public from confusion and deception, as well as to provide the trademark owner with a unique way of marketing itself.

If a trademark is not owned by an advertiser or the advertiser has not gotten permission to use the trademark, the trademark owner can sue for an injunction against future printing. The newspaper is not liable for damages unless it ran the advertisement knowing that it would cause confusion or deceive purchasers. If the newspaper runs the ad with knowledge of a conflicting claim of trademark ownership, the paper is not only subject to an injunction against future printing, but may face liability for damages.

The NFL owns the trademark to a number of phrases related to professional football including “Super Bowl” and “Super Sunday.”  The NFL also owns the rights to NFL logos, as well as the Superbowl crest.  Individual teams generally hold the trademarks for team names and logos. The NFL aggressively defends its trademarks and has brought actions against a number of businesses for using NFL trademarks without permission.  In order to obtain permission to use an NFL trademark for commercial purposes, media organizations should contact the NFL and review it licensing requirements.  

Advertisers can use non-protected phrases like “The Big Game,” or “The Big Game in Atlanta,” to promote events and products.  Likewise, advertisers can refer to teams by geographic location such as “Good luck Los Angeles!” or “Way to go New England!”

As always, this is not intended to be, and should not be construed as, legal advice.  Please contact your newspaper’s private attorney or the Legal Hotline at (717) 703-3080 with questions or for a pre-publication review.

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