The NCAA national men’s basketball tournament will begin on March 18, 2021 and will end with the national championship on April 5, 2021. The women’s tournament will begin on March 21, 2021 and will end with the national championship on April 4, 2021.
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 your station does not respect the NCAA’s intellectual property rights.
Use of NCAA Copyrights and Trademarks
The NCAA diligently protects its copyright and trademark rights associated with the NCAA basketball championships, and licenses its trademarks, logos, designs, and other protected terminology for substantial fees. Only licensed parties are authorized to use this intellectual property. Activities that create the appearance of a relationship between the NCAA (and its tournaments) and your station or your advertisers (known as “ambush marketing”) are extremely risky.
Any unlicensed use of NCAA intellectual property for the sale or promotion of any product or service is unlawful, and can expose your station to claims of trademark infringement, unfair competition, and false advertising, for which you could 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. We strongly recommend that you avoid any use of the NCAA’s intellectual property in any station promotion unless explicitly authorized by the NCAA or its authorized agents.
For example, unless specifically licensed, you may not say or use in print the following in connection with station promotional events:
• “NCAA” or any NCAA logo
• “Final Four,” “Elite Eight,” “Sweet Sixteen,” etc.
• “The Road to the Final Four,” “The Road to Indianapolis,” “The Road to San Antonio”
• “March Madness,” “March Mayhem,” “Midnight Madness”
• Any team name or nickname (such as “Cavaliers” or “Hoosiers”)
• Any NCAA or team logo
You may, however, say or use in print:
• “The college basketball championship”
• “The national semifinals of the college basketball championship”
• The dates of the games
• The names of the colleges that are competing, but not the team names
The NCAA holds dozens of copyrights and registered trademarks. A complete list is found here.
Contests Involving Unauthorized Distribution of Event Tickets
The NCAA and its authorized agents are the only legal sources for the distribution of tournament tickets. Your station should not conduct any promotion where tickets to a tournament game are awarded, even if your station validly purchased the tickets. The only exception is if your 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, confirm with the sponsor that it has the required written authorization, and retain a copy of this authorization for your files.
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 your station has obtained appropriate press credentials, do not broadcast reports on an NCAA game from the venue while the game is ongoing. This includes not only live radio and/or television reporting from the venue, but also live web posting and blogging. Once a game has ended, you can report the “news” of the game, such as the winner and score.
Your station must also obtain prior consent from the NCAA or the local rights holder to use recorded highlights of the games, and pre- and post-game events that occurred inside the venue, in station newscasts, and on station websites.
If you have questions about broadcasts and promotions related to the 2021 basketball championships, or the rights controlled by the NCAA, please contact any attorney in our office.