Thursday, August 17, 2017

How to Enjoy an IP-Safe Big Game

For only the second time in NFL history, Minnesota will host a Super Bowl game.

In 1992, Minnesota hosted Super Bowl XXVI at the Hubert Humphrey Metrodome.    Gloria Estefan was the halftime headliner, and Olympic figure skating champions Brian Boitano and Dorothy Hamill skated on Teflon.  The game was played at the end of January and I’m sure it was cold.  I don’t remember much about the game, but I seem to recall that there were a lot of “Super Bowl” events and activities around town – or maybe not.

Super Bowl LII is less than six months away, and will be played in the new US Bank Stadium.  Hosting the Super Bowl presents big opportunities for Minnesotans.  Hotels, restaurants and retail stores in Minneapolis and the surrounding communities will realize millions of dollars from housing, feeding and entertaining participants, fans and the crews covering the event for media outlets throughout the world.  There will certainly be a number of “events” and merchandising surrounding the game, but if you are planning to participate, be careful what you do and how you promote it.

The National Football League owns the rights to the game and several registrations for the trademark SUPER BOWL (as well as SUPER SUNDAY, NFL, NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE, all of the team names and logos, etc.).  It earns enormous fees for rights to broadcast the game, advertise during the game, and use the trademarks to sell products and services, and is notoriously aggressive in protecting its interests.  

Bars, restaurants and hotels typically own performance licenses that allow them to show television programs in their public rooms, so they can broadcast the game but cannot advertise using “Super Bowl” (or any of the other NFL marks) to attract customers for the event.

Without a performance license, you can’t publicly display the game for others such as in a retail store or for a charitable event that charges an entrance fee or donation (keep it strictly to a house party with friends and family – no fee for viewing or for food). That’s because any unauthorized display of the game is considered a copyright violation and use of any of the NFL marks in connection with any commercial activity is viewed as trademark infringement.

But don’t despair.  You can be creative with your words as in “Have a Super Day and Fill Your Bowl With Snacks From [your name here]” or simply use “The Big Game” in place of “The Super Bowl.”  (Interesting story in that the NFL tried to register THE BIG GAME, but abandoned its applications when challenged by, among others, Anheuser-Busch, Kellogg, Wal-Mart, Time Warner, Nestles, the University of California and the various Yum brands, KFC, Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, A & W and Long John Silvers).

If you want to sell souvenirs, be advised that unauthorized items are subject to confiscation.  Don’t print your own tee shirts or mugs using any of the NFL marks.  If you are purchasing items for resale, make sure you are buying them from an authorized NFL licensee – beware of seemingly authentic web sites with odd email addresses or poor spelling and grammar, pay with a credit card (so you can stop payment) and, if the goods make it through customs, check them carefully for poor printing or other shoddy workmanship.  Most importantly, look for the hologram.  All authorized goods are supposed to be marked, on the product or label, with an authorized hologram proving that the product is legitimate. Beware of the plain silver sticker!

Sweepstakes or contests with game tickets for prizes are also tricky in that you can’t use the NFL trademarks associated with the game in your advertising and you could have problems with the tickets themselves.  The NFL includes language on the back of their tickets prohibiting use as part of a sweepstakes, giveaway or other promotion, although I don’t know if they have actually tried to enforce this rule.

Personally, I hope to be out of town when the Super Bowl hits.  I think it is wonderful for the Twin Cities (St Paul’s Winter Carnival coincides with the Big Game) and the state as a whole, but I just don’t look forward to the crowds.  At least we can be grateful that our weather should keep most of them off the streets and in the skyways.

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