The Major League Baseball (MLB) championship games will begin with the wild card playoffs on September 30, 2014, and will culminate with the World Series, starting on October 21, 2014. Your station may wish to become involved in promotions tied to the baseball championships. These promotions can be very successful, especially as your local team progresses through the championships, but they can also lead to litigation and damage awards if MLB’s intellectual property rights are not properly respected.
MLB licenses its protected trademarks, symbols, and terminology to third parties for substantial fees, and it strictly limits the use of these marks to authorized parties only. MLB vigorously protects its marks and takes legal action to prevent unauthorized use of them. Activities that give the appearance of a relationship between MLB, the MLB championship games, and your station or your advertisers, or that otherwise attempt to capitalize on the goodwill associated with MLB or team marks (known as “ambush marketing”), are unlawful and extremely risky; activities such as the unlicensed use of MLB’s marks in connection with the sale or promotion of any products or services offered by or through your station, can expose your station and your advertisers to monetary liability for trademark infringement, unfair competition, false advertising, and misappropriation of goodwill. The use of a disclaimer, such as “not an official sponsor of the World Series,” will provide little, if any, protection against the MLB’s claims.
Major League Baseball owns the exclusive right to use its marks, which include “World Series,” “MLB,” and any team name or nickname (such as “Washington Nationals” or “Nats”), as well related symbols, designations, and logos. Without permission from MLB, you cannot say or print any of these protected marks or logos in station marketing or promotions. These marks include, but are not limited to, the following:
You may, however, say or print the following:
Major League Baseball and its authorized agents and licensees are the only legal sources for distribution of tickets. When purchasing tickets, buyers agree to all the terms and conditions printed on the ticket request form, which generally includes a prohibition on the use of the ticket for advertising or promotional purposes. Accordingly, your station may not conduct a promotion giving away tickets to the MLB championship games, even if your station validly purchased the tickets. The only exceptions to this general rule are if your station conducts a promotion with an official sponsor that has written permission from MLB to conduct such a promotion, or if MLB has provided written permission directly to your station. Always check that the sponsor has a license to permit ticket giveaways.
MLB holds property rights in the accounts and descriptions of the championship games and events and licenses television and radio rights to these events. As a result of the scope of its rights in this area, MLBcan legally control the use of information relating to the events for a reasonable time following their conclusion. Also, tickets to the championship games will likely include a printed restriction that prohibits anyone in the stadium from giving accounts of the event to the media without press credentials. Unless your station has obtained official press credentials, you are therefore not permitted to report on the championship games from the venue while the event is ongoing. When the event has concluded, however, you may report the “news” of the event, such as the winner and the score of the game.
MLB also has a right to charge a fee for the unauthorized use of highlights. Your station needs to obtain consent from MLB or the local rights holder prior to the use of any highlights of the games (and any related events) in your station’s newscasts.
If you have any questions regarding the legality of broadcasts or marketing promotions relating to MLB championship games, please contact any attorney in our office.