Sunday, February 3 is the Super Bowl. As every sports fan knows, the New England Patriots will take on the Los Angeles Rams in what has also come to be known as Super Sunday.
Fortunately, everything written above appears in a newspaper article, and not an advertisement for a business, such as a restaurant or a sports bar. Placing any one of those phrases—Super Bowl, Super Sunday, Patriots, Rams—in an ad of any kind could land the business owner in a heap of trouble with the National Football League.
They are all NFL trademarks, and the league charges substantially for the right to use what has been registered for intellectual property protection.
In an online article last year leading up to Super Bowl LII between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Patriots, Small Business Trends columnist Joshua Sophy noted other NFL trademarks. Mr. Sophy mentioned “Pro Bowl,” all 32 NFL team names and uniform designs, the league’s shield logo, and any depiction of the prize the Super Bowl contestants vie for, the Vince Lombardi Trophy. He cautioned readers about the NFL’s protection of its trademarked phrases.
“The National Football League has serious restrictions on uses of these terms for advertising and they WILL pursue action against you if you violate these trademarked terms,” Mr. Sophy said.
Mezza Luna Restaurant owner E.J. Cubellis said he was not surprised that the NFL had trademarked Super Bowl. Mr. Cubellis described the NFL as “one of the biggest capitalist outfits out there.”
However, he was taken aback when told of the extensive list of phrases (team names, uniforms, etc.) the league has trademarked and forbidden businesses to use without substantial compensation.
“That’s awful, that’s just nuts!” he said.
Eithnee Carline is the co-owner of DJ’s Wings in Falmouth and Hyannis. The Hyannis restaurant has been in business for 30 years, she said. She recalled back when some newspaper accounts referred to the establishment as “Super Bowl Headquarters.” Ms. Carline said she is aware that no such verbiage can be used in the business’s advertising for this weekend.
“We use ‘The Big Game.’ Can’t even use Patriots, our favorite football team! Isn’t it crazy?” she said.
Apparently the NFL is indiscriminate as to who will get a yellow flag if the league’s terms are violated. In 2007, a church was forced to cancel its watch party of the game between the Indianapolis Colts and the Chicago Bears. The event was advertised as a “Super Bowl Bash.”
Listen carefully to the commercials that air during the game. Many do not refer to the event by name and simply employ a football theme. Comedian and late night talk show host Stephen Colbert, when he was doing The Colbert Report on Comedy Central, offered up “The Superb Owl” as an alternative to serve as a store’s endorser of Super Sunday beer and snacks.
At least one Trader Joe’s store was tagged on Twitter as having adopted the feathered mascot. “The Superb Owl” was recently the subject Mark Faherty’s weekly bird report for WCAI in Woods Hole, the Cape and Islands NPR radio station.
Many businesses sidestep using Super Bowl and instead make veiled reference to the matchup in their advertising with such phrases as “The Big Game” or “The Pro Football Championship,” and “Championship Sunday.”
Clay Realty Group in North Falmouth avoided any specific game day reference in its advertising this week, but still hinted at the game. Print advertising invited customers to “Come check out our Open Houses on the upcoming Super Saturday!”
As the Patriots seek their sixth Super Bowl title, a radio promotion for Doggz and Hoggz on Main Street, Falmouth, has advised listeners that the restaurant will be giving away a “Feast for 6.”
Doggz and Hoggz co-owner Linda Bullard said she understands the NFL being so restrictive in the use of items reflective of its identity. Ms. Bullard’s feeling was that, like any business, “you have to guarantee your brand.”
“Otherwise people will use it without your control, so you have to protect it,” she said.
The sandwich board in front of the American Legion Post on Shore Road in Gray Gables announces a “SUPERBOWL PARTY.” Similarly, the marquee in front of Dino’s Sports Bar on Route 151 in Mashpee invites people to come watch “PATS-RAMS” this Sunday. Asked about the NFL’s trademark protection of the team names, owner Constantinos (Dino) Mitrokostas said that is why he phrased it the way he did, not using the full name of the Patriots.
“That’s why it says Rams Pats, that answers it all!” he said.
Mr. Mitrokostas said he has also run afoul of the Boston Red Sox for using the team’s name in radio advertising without team permission. He said it did not help matters that his ads aired on a radio station that does not carry Red Sox games.
As for the NFL, Mr. Mitrokostas said the league is making money hand over fist so concerns over trademark infringement are misplaced.
“Does the NFL make enough to leave us alone? Absolutely!” he said.
At the website for Falmouth’s Cape Cod Curling Club, a notice invites people to take part in “Superbowl Social Curling.” The club’s invite goes on to state that they will “have the big game on TV and fun on the ice!” along with a potluck supper.
Jeanie Yaroch of Sandwich is a club member. Ms. Yaroch said she was the one who put together the notice. She said that running the two words together was not an intentional attempt to circumvent the NFL’s authority.
“I wanted to emphasize Super and Social and Curling, not Bowl. That’s why I made it a small letter,” she said.
Ms. Yaroch added that she was not aware of the copyright trademark the NFL holds for Super Bowl. She said it struck her as a little bit selfish on the part of the league to claim ownership. Still, she was glad to know that her notice likely would not incur the wrath of the NFL.
“I’ll sleep better,” she said.