Navigating Trademarked Sports Team Names in Marketing

Navigating Trademarked Sports Team Names in Marketing

Navigating Trademarked Sports Team Names in Marketing: Insights from the Super Bowl, MLB, and March Madness

Trademarked sports team names hold significant importance in marketing, and with the Super Bowl just days away, understanding the guidelines surrounding the terms surrounding "the Big Game's" usage is crucial to avoid potential legal issues for your business. In this blog post, we will explore the guidelines, which many aren't aware of, as well as the rules associated with the trademarks of MLB and March Madness, whose seasons are also just around the corner. By adhering to these guidelines, your business can effectively market your products or services while respecting intellectual property rights.

Super Bowl Advertising Guidelines

The Super Bowl is known for its highly regulated event, with strict guidelines surrounding the use of trademarked terms. The National Football League (NFL) trademarked the phrase "Super Bowl" in 1969, and any commercial activity that uses this term without proper authorization is considered a violation. The NFL strictly enforces these trademark laws.

“Super Bowl” isn’t the only term that the NFL has trademarked. In addition, the NFL also protects other phrases like "Super Sunday," "Gameday," "Back to Football," "1st and GOAL," as well as their logos and team logos. Understanding and adhering to these guidelines is crucial to prevent confusion among sponsors and maintain the integrity of the event.

Super Bowl Advertising Restrictions

  • Don't use "Super Bowl" or "Super Sunday" in your content, in any way.
  • Avoid using any specific NFL team names
  • Don't use an NFL player’s full name
  • Don't incorporate the NFL logo or team logos within your creatives or imagery

What Can You Use?

  • Player Numbers
  • "Big Game" or "Big Game Sunday"
  • Football shapes, field graphics, and generalized football images (both Canva and Pixabay offer free stock photos!)

Summary: Instead of using the above words and phrases, businesses should adhere to the trademark rules and guidelines, and instead switch their promotional messaging to use phrases such as "Big Game" or "Big Game Sunday". 

More information on the NFL Guidelines can be found here and here.

MLB Brand Restrictions

The MLB is the oldest of the major professional sports leagues in the US and Canada, and businesses are often really excited when this season kicks off due to the "fun" it brings (think Summer, BBQs, Beer, and Baseball!). Similar to the Super Bowl, Major League Baseball (MLB) also holds trademark protections for its brand. While specific guidelines may vary by team, it is generally advised to avoid using MLB team names, logos, or trademarks without authorization in marketing and social media promotions. Here is a full list of the terms trademarked by the MLB. Similarly to the Suber Bowl, obtaining proper permissions or licenses, where needed, or avoiding using the terms entirely and instead using more generic graphics and phrases ensures compliance with trademark regulations.

More information on the full MLB Guidelines can be found here.

March Madness Brand Guidelines

And lastly, another favorite event for bars and restaurants is March Madness, the NCAA college basketball tournament. This is another trademarked event with specific guidelines to adhere to. Unauthorized use of the term "March Madness" or NCAA trademarks in marketing campaigns can lead to legal issues. It is crucial to familiarize yourself with the guidelines and receive proper authorization before incorporating these trademarks into your marketing efforts. 

Instead of using NCAA or March Madness consider using terms like "Bracket Tournament," "Bracket Challenge," (Great if your business also offers a bracket tournament to patrons), or "Basketball Tournament".

Find the full NCAA Trademark Guidelines here.

Best Practices for Marketers

To navigate the usage of trademarked sports team names and brands effectively, follow these best practices across the board:

  • Research and educate yourself: Familiarize yourself with the trademark guidelines associated with the Super Bowl, MLB, March Madness, and other sporting events relevant to your marketing campaigns.
  • Obtain permissions and licenses: When using trademarked sports team names, logos, or phrases, seek proper permissions or licenses from the respective organizations to ensure compliance and avoid legal issues.
  • Use generic football terms: When referencing sporting events like the Super Bowl, utilize terms such as "The Big Game" or "Big Game" to avoid trademark infringement. Stick to general football terms when discussing the event or associated teams.
  • Be cautious with player names: Avoid using specific player names without proper authorization. When mentioning players, it is advised to use their jersey numbers instead.
  • Stay informed and seek legal advice: As regulations and trademark guidelines may evolve, it is essential to stay updated and seek legal counsel when needed to ensure compliance and avoid any potential violations.

Using trademarked sports team names in marketing requires careful consideration to avoid legal issues. By understanding and adhering to the guidelines, as well as the brand restrictions of MLB and March Madness, businesses can effectively promote their products or services while respecting intellectual property rights. Remember to research, obtain permissions or licenses when necessary, use generic terms, and stay informed to navigate these situations successfully.

Interested in gaining more from your marketing? Contact No Wake Digital today and let us help you navigate the waters of digital marketing!

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