Heads up – the NFL is watching you . . .

It’s time for that most evergreen of January stories: the annual reminder that you have to be careful about using the words “super” and “bowl” together in any way. That’s because the NFL is on the look-out for “unauthorized” uses of its registered trademarks, and one of those trademarks happens to be “Super Bowl®”. We put “unauthorized” in quotation marks here because the No Fun League has a somewhat (how can we say this delicately?) expansive view of its own ability to prevent anybody from uttering those two words – a view which is not universally shared.

The League’s position, as far as we can tell, is that pretty much any non-news use of the Two-Word-Phrase-That-Shall-Not-Be-Spoken necessarily implies an affiliation with the NFL. To the NFL, this in turn apparently means that the NFL is absolutely entitled to control who can utter the Unutterable Phrase and when It can be uttered. Whether that view is supported by, say, the law is far from clear. (But, as Gene Pitney once cogently observed, in some instances “a law book [does] no good.”)

However the law might stack up on this, it’s probably best to view the NFL as you would the obnoxious loud-mouth jerk down at the other end of the bar who’s had a few and is loudly insisting that his knowledge of sports trivia is superior to everybody else’s. Maybe he’s right, maybe he’s not – but who wants to bother to find out?

So here’s what you need to know.

The NFL has registered several trademarks, many of which you might feel inclined to use when you’re referring to the Event-Of-Overriding-National-Importance-That-Shall-Not-Be-Named. These include: the expressions “Super Bowl®”, “Super Sunday®”, “National Football League®”, “American Football Conference®” “National Football Conference®”, “NFL®”, “AFC®”, “NFC®”. The NFL also holds a registration on the Super Bowl logo, and all team names, uniforms and logos.

With that in mind, one should NOT use any of these terms or images in a way that falsely connotes any connection to the league, the game or the teams, especially if that occurs in conjunction with the promotion of any event, contest, or other activity not sanctioned by the league.

On the other hand, one MAY use those terms and images in a legitimate news story, factual recitation or commentary about the game, before or after it occurs. One MAY also use other, generic terms which have not been registered as trademarks including the all-time favorite alternative, i.e., “The Big Game” (although several years ago the NFL® took an unsuccessful stab at registering “The Big Game”). One MAY also use the names of the cities whose teams are competing in the game (without using the team nicknames).

Enough lawyering, though.  Let’s enjoy the Big Game (as we twiddle our thumbs awaiting March Madn  – wait, that’s trademarked by the NCAA. Oh well.)