The biggest Sunday in sports is here, where fans and football-fanatics huddle around their television, consume record-setting amounts of wings, guacamole, and beer, and cheer for their beloved team … or yell against the hated team. By the time Super Bowl LII kicked-off, fans had seen plenty of advertisements on TV and in local businesses, promoting deals and specials … but all of these ads are using the same terms. Have you noticed that some ads refer to the Super Bowl as “The Big Game” or “the football championship” or even, humorously the “Superb Owl”?
It all comes down to trademark ownership.
The National Football League (NFL) has owned the phrase “Super Bowl” across several trademark classes for nearly 50 years and has not been shy about sending cease and desist notices to companies that use the phrase in promotional materials and events. Back in 2007, the NFL threatened to sue a church in Indianapolis who was promoting a “Super Bowl Bash” viewing party, was charging a small fee to help pay for the food, and playing the game on a screen larger than 55” … all things that are legally written into the NFL’s ownership of “Super Bowl”.
Companies use trademarks to distinguish their Brand and differentiate it from competing brands in the crowded marketplace. When companies put valuable time and money into growing the reputation of their trademarks, they closely watch for trademark infringement that can negatively impact their Company’s asset. As the largest major sports league, worth nearly $75 billion, the NFL is acting as any trademark-owning Company should, with a desire to control the use of their Super Bowl trademark.
Registering and securing a trademark is only half of the process of owning a trademark, defending that mark is just as an important component, in fact, failure to enforce a trademark could lead to the loss of that particular mark. There are three main things companies need to do in order to keep and protect their trademark – asides from continuing to pay the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) – 1) use the mark correctly and consistently; 2) monitor for potential infringements; and 3) taking action against those who misuse trademarks or use without consent.
The advantages for brands that become an NFL official sponsor are huge. It has been proven that fans recognize these brands and prefer them to other brands, especially when its game-time. So the NFL’s tight control over the phrase “Super Bowl” is not only beneficial for the NFL’s Brand, but also for the brands that are official sponsors of the league – like Budweiser, who signed a 6-year, $1 billion contract in 2010 to be a Super Bowl sponsor.