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Super Blog XVII: The Big Game- a yearly exercise in advertising trademark disputes

Whether you’re an avid football fan or a casual spectator, chances are you’ll be tuning into February 12’s “big game.” Even if you don’t know a cornerback from a quarterback, or won’t be risking injury in the pursuit of pregame tailgating glory, the Super Bowl eludes very few of us. So much so, that the Super Bowl has dominated American TV ratings for decades, accumulating 9 of the 10 highest watched programs in US television history. And yet, you will be hard-pressed to find more than a handful of advertisers who will directly use the phrase “Super Bowl” in their marketing promotions and collateral.

This is because the phrase “Super Bowl” has been trademarked by the NFL and they are very protective about who is able to be associated with and use the phrase “Super Bowl.” Not without good reason, as the Super Bowl is the most anticipated sports event of the year, routinely attracting over 100 million domestic viewers. A big audience means a big opportunity for profit.

Major networks (FOX, NBC, CBS and starting in 2027 ABC) that pay for the broadcasting rights for the game pay upwards of $1 Billion just to show the game on a rotating basis every three years. Additionally, it is nearly a $5 Million price tag for the privilege to run a 30 second commercial during the Super Bowl, with the NFL receiving millions of dollars from licensing the use of the Super Bowl trademark and its logos.

To circumvent the cost-prohibitive avenue of purchasing a license, advertisers will use some linguistic gymnastics to maneuver around the issue of copyright infringement. The most common, of course, to reference the Super Bowl indirectly as “The Big Game.”

Trademark

Trademarks are generally words, phrases, logos, and symbols used by producers to identify their goods. However, shapes, sounds, fragrances, and colors may also be registered as trademarks (the McDivitt Frog’s ‘McDivitt ribbit’ is a trademarked sound). Two basic requirements must be met for a mark to be eligible for trademark protection: it must be in use in commerce, and it must be distinctive. The Lanham Act provides federal protection for distinctive marks that are used in commerce. The NFL is one of the most valuable and recognizable sports leagues in the country, and it is in their best interest to preserve the inherent value that comes with being associated with the league.

Fun Fact: Prior to 1969, the culmination of the NFL season was the AFL–NFL World Championship Game. The Super Bowl moniker was not adopted until what would be Super Bowl III. Since then, it has become one of the most recognizable phrases in American cultural vernacular.

Journalism vs. Advertising

Given that we have established ‘Super Bowl’ as a highly coveted trademarked phrase, you may be confused as to why sometimes you hear it referred as the Big Game and other times as the Super Bowl. The difference in when the two phrases will be used is in the context of journalism and in advertising. When acting as a journalist the phrase Super Bowl can be used because it is not a commercial use of the phrase. The news broadcast is simply referring the event as the Super Bowl because they have an obligation to accurately report the news, thus calling it the Big Game could potentially cause some confusion. On the other hand, when the phrase “The Big Game” is used it is almost exclusively tied to an advertisement. The companies that are allowed to use the phrase super Bowl pay a large sum to the NFL for the advertising rights. If anyone was able to use the phrase it would drastically diminish the value that the NFL has created over the years.

Why “The Big Game?”

The NFL has trademarked many different phrases in association with the Super Bowl. Such as, Super Sunday, gameday, and over a hundred other marks. The NFL attempted to trademark the phrase “the Big Game,” but voluntarily abandoned their trademark application after over twenty different parties came forward to oppose the application of the trademark. Due to the failed attempt at trademarking the phrase, “The Big Game,” the NFL cannot stop various entities from using the phrase to refer to an event, advertisement, or special surrounding the final game of the NFL season.

Fun Facts
The Super Bowl is ubiquitous with American tradition, to the extent that each year there is a call to make the Monday after the Super Bowl a federal holiday! As we prepare for Super Bowl XVII, we thought it would be fun to share some fun trivia surrounding the Super Bowl.

Super Bowl Sunday is the second biggest eating day in the United States of America only behind Thanksgiving.

Just on Super Bowl Sunday while the Kansas City Chiefs will be taking on the Philadelphia Eagles the following will be consumed by fans across the country:
• 1.42 billion chicken wings
• 11.2 million pounds of chips
• 12.5 million pizzas
• 8 million pounds of Guacamole
• 4 million pounds of pretzels

There is a rich history associated with Super Bowl Sunday. The following are a few interesting facts about the actual games being played:
• The New England Patriots and the Pittsburg Steelers hold the record for 6 Super Bowl Championship victories.
• The Denver Broncos and the New England Patriots hold the record for 5 Super Bowl loses.
• In 2013, Jim and John Harbaugh made history being the first pair of brothers to be the head coaches of the two opposing teams in the Super Bowl.
• In 2021, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were the first team in history to win the Super Bowl on their home field.
• This upcoming game between the Kansas City Chiefs and Philadelphia Eagles will be the first time in history that two brothers will face off against each other on opposing teams in the Super Bowl. Travis Kelce is a tight End for the Chiefs and Jason Kelce is a center for the Eagles.

In addition to the on-field and in-the-kitchen facts. the following are a few miscellaneous facts about the Super Bowl:
• The NFL does not pay the halftime performance for the halftime show.
• The Super Bowl holds the record for 9 out of the top 10 most watched television programs in American history.
• The lowest aftermarket price to attend the 2023 Super Bowl is approximately $6,000.00, but in comparison the price of admission to Super Bowl I was $12.00 and not even all of the tickets were sold.
• The winning team receives the Lombardi Trophy, which is a 7-pound silver trophy designed by Tiffany & Co. at a price of $50,000.
• The winning team also is in charge of designing their own commemorative ring for the members of its organization. The average overall price of the rings for one team is approximately $5 Million and takes about 4 months to design and craft the rings.

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