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How Not to Use “Super Bowl” in Your Marketing and Promotions

As the Big Game approaches on February 3, marketers everywhere are getting excited about the sales and hype surrounding the Super Bowl. The mass media coverage of the Super Bowl and the consumerism that surrounds it is a recipe for success in many industries.

But be warned: as much as you might want to, it’s actually taboo to use the term “Super Bowl” in any of your marketing. That means that any commercials, contests, giveaways or events that you throw have to avoid the term “Super Bowl.” Let us explain.

Protecting a Trademark
Basically, the NFL owns the “Super Bowl” trademark, and is aggressive about protecting it. The reason they’re so aggressive is that their advertisers pay billions of dollars for the privilege of being able to officially associate with the Super Bowl. Locking down the Superbowl brand means that there’s less chance of being associated with unscrupulous advertisers. But more importantly, it allows the NFL to maintain a premium price for advertising. If Super Bowl-branded advertisements are a highly exclusive privilege, they’re worth far more.

Other Things You Should Avoid
But it’s not enough to trademark “Super Bowl.” You can’t market yourself using “NFL,” “National Football League,” “Super Sunday,” or even the names of the two competing teams. The NFL and Super Bowl logos are also forbidden, as well as any team logos. Mentioning the competing teams’ cities is fine. It’s not enough to restrict name-dropping, however: establishments cannot charge their patrons to watch the game, nor can you publically show the game if you’re displaying it on a screen larger than 55 inches diagonally. Them’s the bricks.

The Good News
The good news is that there are plenty of ways to get around these restrictions, if you’re creative. First of all, it’s understood that what game you’re talking about when you reference “The Big Game”–which despite the NFL’s best efforts, is not a trademarked term. Plus, it’s ok to imply the idea of the Super Bowl in your advertisements: you can promote “Super Chicken Wings for a Super Party” without getting a cease-and-desist letter. Finally, if you don’t mention any of the above verboten terms, you can say things like “the professional football championship game on February 3.”

Some even better news is that you will probably benefit from the Super Bowl even if you don’t explicitly reference the Super Bowl in your promotions. The Super Bowl is a big enough cultural event that you can bet your bar will be full of people wanting to watch the game, even if you don’t make an attempt to promote it at all. Just make sure the Big Game is playing on a screen or two.

Provided those screens are less than 55” diagonally, of course.