The NCAA national men’s and women’s basketball tournaments will begin on March 12, 2023 and end with the national championships in early April.
Broadcast stations often conduct promotions tied to these tournaments. The promotions can be successful, especially if local teams advance, but they can also lead to expensive litigation and damage awards if a station does not respect the NCAA’s intellectual property rights.
Use of NCAA Copyrights and Trademarks
The NCAA protects its copyright and trademark rights associated with the NCAA basketball championships, and licenses its trademarks, logos, designs, and protected terminology for substantial fees. Only licensed parties are allowed to use this intellectual property. Activities that create the appearance of a relationship between the NCAA (and its tournaments) and a broadcast station or its advertisers are known as “ambush marketing,” and are extremely risky.
Any unlicensed use of NCAA intellectual property for the sale or promotion of a product or service is unlawful and can expose a broadcast station to claims of trademark infringement, unfair competition, and false advertising. A station can be held liable for significant monetary damages. The use of a disclaimer, such as “not an official sponsor of the NCAA tournament,” will not provide adequate protection against infringement claims. Broadcast stations should avoid any use of the NCAA’s intellectual property in any station promotions unless explicitly authorized by the NCAA or its authorized agents.
For example, unless specifically licensed, stations may not say or use in print the following in connection with station advertising or promotional events:
Stations may, however, say or use in print:
The NCAA holds dozens of copyrights and registered trademarks. A complete list is found here.
Contests Involving Distribution of Event Tickets
The NCAA and its authorized agents are the only legal sources for distribution of tournament tickets. Only NCAA corporate partners are authorized to use tickets in advertising, marketing, or promotional activities such as giveaways. Broadcast stations should not conduct any promotion where tickets to a tournament game are awarded, even if the tickets are validly purchased. The only exception is if a station conducts a promotion with an official sponsor that has written permission from the NCAA to allow tickets to be given away in contests or promotions. In such cases, stations should confirm with the sponsor that it has the required written authorization.
News Reporting on the Tournaments
The NCAA holds the rights to all live accounts and descriptions of the tournament games and events, and licenses these rights to television and radio stations. Unless a station has obtained appropriate press credentials, it cannot broadcast reports on an NCAA game from the venue while the game is ongoing. This includes not only live radio and/or television reporting but also live web posting and blogging. After a game has ended, stations can report the “news” of the game such as the winner and score.
A station must also obtain consent from the NCAA or the local rights holder to use recorded highlights of the games in station newscasts and on station websites.
If you have questions about broadcasts and promotions related to the 2023 basketball championships, or the rights controlled by the NCAA, please contact an attorney in our Media practice group.