If you watched the Super Bowl last night, you may have noticed that very few advertisers referred to the game by its official name. That’s because the National Football League closely guards its “Super Bowl” trademark and allows only a few official sponsors to use the phrase in their marketing efforts.
“When we become aware of a potential violation, we will be very aggressive, and sending a cease-and-desist letter would be the first step,” NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy told the Chicago Tribune.
Licensing the trademark is big business for the NFL. Sponsors like Pepsi, Verizon, Motorola, and Castrol pay more than $100 million annually to be affiliated with the league. While there is no specific sponsorship of the Super Bowl, NFL sponsors have the right to use the game’s name and logo in their own marketing efforts, according to McCarthy.
To avoid any allegations of trademark infringement, other advertisers refer to the Super Bowl simply as the “Big Game” or the “Super Showdown.” In fact, the “The Big Game” has become so synonymous with the Super Bowl that the NFL tried to trademark that phrase in 2006.
Businesses that don’t steer clear of the trademark may receive one of the 80 to 100 cease-and-desist letters the NFL sends each year to businesses promoting some Super Bowl special.
“They’re trying to draft off the goodwill that we’ve built up over the past 46 years with the Super Bowl,” McCarthy said. “Part of the reason we’ve been able to build up the Super Bowl is by protecting our intellectual property. We’re very protective of where and to whom we extend our rights. We need to protect the NFL shield. We need to protect the Super Bowl mark for our brand.”
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The NFL is an excellent example of the benefits of zealously defending your trademark. If you would like to do the same for your valuable trademarks, contact me by phone or email.