Don’t say “Super Bowl”!

So, Super Bowl 45, or Super Bowl Ex-El-Vee for those of you who skipped the roman numerals day in grade 5 math, will be taking place first weekend of February, and I thought, “this is a great time to enlighten some of my non-broadcasting friends with some information they may not have known”. Calm down, yes you might learn something, but I promise it won’t take long.

Did you know it’s illegal for a business to promote a “Super Bowl” party? Since the “Super Bowl” is a trademarked name, a sports bar or other establishment can not advertise in any way that they’re having a “Super Bowl” party. It can’t be on posters or on their sign, it can’t appear in a TV, radio, or print ad, and it can’t be part of your promotions (such as, say, “Super Bowl Burritos, 2 for $6 at MexiCanada!” which would be a great name for a Mexican/Canadian restaurant by the way).

So how do businesses get around this? Well, I’m sure you’ve heard the more savvy ones do it before, and perhaps you thought it was just a stupid attempt to be clever. You can by all means have a Super Bowl party (as long as your bar is licensed to broadcast sporting events), you just have to call it the “big game” party, or something similar. “Come watch the big game on our 60” Plasmas and drink your face off at half-time with our 60” mugs!” (note: you can’t promote drinking in excess either, regardless of how cool it would be to drink out of a 5 foot tall mug), or “Check out some Championship pigskin…”, you get the idea… you just can’t say “Super Bowl” in any way that would make it seem like you’re either affiliated with them, that it’s an official NFL sanctioned event, or that you’re trying to make a buck off their name.

So why do places do it? Well, because the odds of getting caught are about the same as Michael Vick living down the fact that he drowned and electrocuted dogs for fun and profit. The NFL doesn’t have their lawyers scouring every rinky-dink little town in North America for any mention of the Super Bowl. If Jimmy’s Wings and Rings in God-only-knows, Arkansas, puts a sign up outside saying “Super Bowl party here!”, who’s going to see it or report them? No one, that’s who. Of course, if Boston Pizza or Hooters did something on a national level without paying for the rights, they’d get caught for sure, but they spend a lot of money to employ people that already know these rules and the ways around them.

The same rules go for a number of other events. You can’t even really say you’re showing the “Olympics”. You can say “the games”, but you can’t say “Olympics”. You also can’t technically say “Stanley Cup finals” (“playoff hockey”), “UFC” (“the fights”), or “World Series” (“cure for insomnia”).

When it comes to advertising, keep it generic and you’re fine. But start specifying, and you face the wrath of whatever professional organization you’re trying to capitalize on. And remember: Their lawyers are way better than your lawyers.

EDIT (January 31st, 2015): It’s starting to become a little more common to see “Super Bowl” used by mid-sized and even some smaller bars and restaurants. The reason for this is that if you partner with an official sponsor and fulfill certain obligations, you can say “Super Bowl” in your ads and on your signage. Most commonly, this is done by offering Budweiser products and having specials and promotions centered around Bud and Bud Light. You still have to get permission (you can’t just say “well, I sell Budweiser, so I can say Super Bowl!”) but it does make it a lot easier and less costly than having to purchase the rights from the NFL or pay fines later.

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2 Responses to “Don’t say “Super Bowl”!”

  1. […] has been getting a lot of extra attention lately for two reasons: one, the post about the Super Bowl and why establishments can’t say they’re holding a “Super Bowl” party, and […]

  2. I think a better name than MexiCanada would be Eh in Wey or something similar.

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