NFL’s tactics don’t change the fact that you can totally say…

NFL’s tactics don’t change the fact that you can totally say…

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Are you going to a Big Game party on Sunday? Or
perhaps going to watch the pro football championship
game? Or take in the majestic splendor of
the Superb Owl? You can also just call it by its real
name: the Super Bowl. The NFL is infamous for coming down like a ton of
bricks on anyone who dares use the actual name for the game in public. And it’s also famous for
trying to grab control of the names people started using when the NFL’s tactics worked and scared
everyone away from saying “Super Bowl.” No matter how hard the NFL tries, it doesn’t own the
phrase “The Big Game,” which has been used for longer than there’s been a Super Bowl. But anything
that looks like someone making money off of the name will attract the NFL’s attention. In 2007,
the NFL put a stop to an Indiana church’s party for a number of reasons, including that the church
promoted it as a “Super Bowl bash.” The NFL has trademarked the terms “Super Bowl”
and “Super Sunday,” but that doesn’t mean it actually controls all rights to the phrase. Instinctually,
we all know that can’t be how the law works. We see and use trademarked names for things all
the time. Grocery stores advertise special deals on Coca-Cola and we put “Windex” on our grocery
lists. Commercials namecheck competitors by name all the time.
It doesn’t even make any internal sense. Companies have trademarks so that they can have
something that everyone instantly recognizes, not so that they suddenly become Voldemort and can’t be named out of fear. Having a trademark means being able to make
sure no one can slap the name of your product onto theirs and confuse buyers into thinking
they’re getting the real thing. It also means stopping an instance where using the name might
make someone think it’s an endorsement or sponsorship. If neither of those things happens, you
can call the Super Bowl the Super Bowl. The ability to use something’s trademarked name to identify
it—even in a commercial—is called “nominative fair use.” Because the trademark is its name.
Thankfully, the NFL and the Super Bowl are really good at letting us know who has paid astronomical
amounts to get the NFL’s endorsement. Ads end with things like “official vehicle sponsor of the
NFL” and there’s a whole page of sponsor names on the Super Bowl’s website. There are so many
instantly recognizable ways to know who has partnered with the NFL and who hasn’t that no one
can think your party is an official, NFL-sponsored get together. No one thought that about the one at
the church in 2007. The reason no one says “Super Bowl” has nothing
to do with the law and everything to do with the massive amount of resources the NFL has brought
to bear on the issue. Its pockets are very deep, its will is strong, and its desire for control ravenous.
But its scare tactics don’t change the fact that you can totally say “Super Bowl.”

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