Law causes unofficial SB advertisers to improvise

By Michelle Pope
STAR Staff
mpope@starhq.com

   Do you notice anything different in the last few weeks as radio and television stations battled over the air to lure football fans to a certain restaurant to watch the Super Bowl, or be the station that awards tickets to one lucky winner?
   If you noticed an abundance of phrases such as "the big game" or "football's greatest event," then relax -- you weren't losing your mind.
   In July of 2003, a law was passed forbidding the use of NFL terminology in advertisements, forcing everyone but "official" sponsors to improvise in broadcasts.
   A publication posted on Oct. 22 of last year by the Leventhal Senter and Lerman, PLLC law firm clearly states the terms of the law, saying, "Under federal law, the NFL retains the exclusive right to control marketing of the Super Bowl and its associated trademarks, including the phrases Super Bowl, Super Sunday, National Football League, NFL, and the NFL shield and Super Bowl logos. The NFL and the individual teams also own federally registered trademarks for the team names (e.g., Redskins or Buccaneers), nicknames (e.g., Skins or Bucs), and uniform and helmet designs.
   "Further, the NFL also owns the trademarks for National Football Conference, American Football Conference, NFC, and AFC. Without permission from the NFL, an entity cannot legally say or print any of these protected words or use these protected logos in its marketing or promotions."
   However, for a small fee of millions of dollars, the NFL will allow official Super Bowl sponsors, such as Pepsi, to use any terminology it pleases. In an age full of frivolous copyrights and needless lawsuits (think hot coffee and fattening fast food), we have once again created an opportunity to sue one another over a game that has become a much-loved American tradition.
   The law publication suggests several terms to use in lieu of NFL terminology, several of which I mentioned above. Others include "The Big Game in Houston, and the Professional Football Championship Game in Houston."
   The publication also suggests using the date of the game, or the cities of the competing teams instead of the actual Super Bowl phrase. Stations are also allowed to poke fun at the fact that they are banned from using certain phrases, such as beeping out the words.
   The free on-air ticket giveaways are also now illegal. The new law states that "In the purchase of Super Bowl tickets, the purchaser agrees to all terms and conditions on the ticket request form, which generally includes a prohibition on use for advertising or promotional purposes. Tickets for major sporting events generally also forbid the resale or transfer of the tickets. In light of these terms and conditions, a station cannot conduct a promotion in which trips and/or tickets to the Super Bowl are awarded, even if the station validly purchased the tickets."
   The only exception to this rule occurs when an official sponsor that has written permission from the NFL promotes the giveaway with the station giving away free tickets. So it was easy to enjoy a laugh about wealthy official sponsors basking in the ability to talk about the Super Bowl, while everyone else was talking about "the big game."