It’s long been the belief that the NFL owned the trademark to the term “Super Bowl,” the name of the grand spectacle that is the NFL’s championship game, and thus, retailers could not use the term in advertising without being an official partner of the NFL. Apparently, that’s not the case.
The Detroit News details in a report that, despite this prevailing notion, the Super Bowl falls under the nominative use category. University of Michigan law professor Jessica Litman defined the term to the News stating “you’re allowed to use the name of the thing to talk about the thing.”
“A neighborhood tavern cannot legally say it’s the official Super Bowl spot to drink Pabst and eat chicken wings until you turn greener than AstroTurf,” Neal Rubin writes in his report. “That suggests an association with the game that it did not purchase. But the same tavern can rightfully say it has 37 wide-screen TVs and is therefore a fine place to watch the Super Bowl.”
Rubin adds that the reason many don’t take advantage of this is that the NFL aggressively threatens litigation against any retailer that tries to use the term. Even if a retailer would take the NFL to court and win, it would still mean spending six figures in legal fees. As a result, bars, delis, and electronic stores alike just get around it by using the term “The Big Game” or something similar.
It just goes to show how trademark litigation is something many hope to avoid by any means. And when a company reaches a certain size and scope like the NFL has, it usually means their trademark is easier to protect, even when they’re standing on shaky legal ground. In this case, retailers around the country find it easier to avoid using the term Super Bowl, and the NFL is more than satisfied with that.