Broadcasts and Promotions Related to the NFL Championship Games and Super Bowl 50

Following the National Football League (“NFL”) Conference Championship games, Super Bowl 50 will be held on February 7, 2016, at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California. (This is the first time since Super Bowl V that the NFL is using standard Arabic numerals, so it is “Super Bowl 50”, not “Super Bowl L”.)

The NFL diligently protects its copyright and trademark rights associated with the Conference Championship playoff games and the Super Bowl. Indeed, the NFL has had a long history of aggressively guarding its trademarks, and has not hesitated to prosecute those it believes are improperly using its trademarks.

If your station plans to conduct promotions or contests related to these games, you should be certain to obtain all necessary licenses and not otherwise infringe the NFL’s rights. Even if your station has obtained the broadcast rights for one or more playoff games and/or the Super Bowl, that agreement may not have the separate advertising or promotional rights that would allow you to use the NFL or Super Bowl name, logo, or other trademarks in station-produced promotions or contests. We caution you to review carefully any such agreements to ensure that you understand the full scope of the rights that you have been granted.

Use of NFL Trademarks

The NFL controls all marketing rights to the Conference Championship games, the Super Bowl, and various associated trademarks. The unlicensed use of the NFL’s trademarks for the sale or promotion of any products, services, or contests is unlawful, and the use of a disclaimer, such as “not an official sponsor of the Super Bowl,” will not provide adequate protection from an infringement claim.

Use of NFL Terminology in Marketing

Without express written permission from the NFL and/or the teams involved, you may not use the following, or related protected words or logos, in marketing or promotions, whether on-air, in print, online, or otherwise:

  • “Super Bowl”
  • “Super Sunday”
  • The Super Bowl logo
  • “NFL,” “AFC,” or “NFC”
  • “National Football League”
  • “American Football Conference”
  • “National Football Conference”
  • Any team name (e.g., “Broncos” or “Cardinals”) or nickname

You may, however, say or print:

  • “The Big Game in Santa Clara”
  • “The Professional Football Championship Game in Santa Clara”
  • The date of the game (e.g., “The February 7th Game”)
  • The names of the cities of the competing teams in the playoff games or the Super Bowl (e.g., Denver or Phoenix), but not the team names
  • You can make fun of the fact that you cannot say the phrase “Super Bowl” (e.g., by bleeping it out)

Advertisements Produced By Third Parties

Before accepting pre-produced advertisements relating to a Conference Championship game or the Super Bowl, your station should make a reasonable inquiry to confirm that the advertiser has the necessary contractual rights to use NFL copyrights and trademarks. You should exercise even greater caution in confirming whether a local advertiser has secured rights to use NFL copyrights and trademarks.

The NFL’s copyrights and trademarks, including Super Bowl-related marks, are usually licensed separately for different categories of products and services. For example, the NFL might grant a license to one particular brewing company to be the “official” Super Bowl beer sponsor, to one particular automobile manufacturer to be the “official” Super Bowl automobile sponsor, and so forth. Such sponsors are traditionally large corporations or entities that can afford to pay the high licensing fees associated with “official” Super Bowl sponsorship.

Ticket Giveaways

The NFL and its authorized agents and licensees are the only legal sources for the distribution of tickets to a Conference Championship game or to the Super Bowl. Your station should not conduct a promotion giving away tickets to these games, even if your station validly purchased the tickets. Only if your station, or a third party contest sponsor, has written authority from the NFL to be an official sponsor for the game may you safely conduct this type of promotion. In that instance, you should require written confirmation that the sponsor is permitted by the NFL to give away tickets.

News Reporting and Use of Highlights

Unless your station has obtained official press credentials, you may not report on a Conference Championship game or the Super Bowl from the venue while the game is ongoing. Once the game has ended, however, you may report the “news” of the event, such as the winner and score of the game.

Before broadcasting highlights of the game or the half-time show, or posting clips or images on a website, your station needs to obtain consent from the NFL and any other rights holders. Although the First Amendment may allow the media to report to some extent news about an athletic event, it may not protect your station if it broadcasts or posts footage or accounts of the game in violation of licensed rights, especially prior to the game’s conclusion.

If you have any questions regarding the legality of broadcasts or marketing promotions relating to the Super Bowl, please contact any attorney in our office at 202-429-8970.