With trademarks such as Super Bowl and Super Sunday, the National Football League had quietly filed trademark applications for the mark The Big Game… well, more than one. It seems that this move has raised eyebrows among some of the world’s trademark behemoths. Companies like Nestle, Time Warner, Pizza Hut, and others have obtained extensions of time to oppose the NFL’s applications.
The article focuses on the Stanford- UC Berkeley football game and how that game has been called “The Big Game” since 1902.
Former Cal football coach Joe Kapp fumed when he heard about the NFL plan. “Traditions and the names of traditions are meaningful in college football,” he said. “What’s next? The game between the two greatest universities in the world that play big-time football is the Big Game. It’s a tradition. It’s history. That’s the true meaning of sport.”
The NFL insists that Cal and Stanford have nothing to fear if it is granted the trademark by the U.S. Patents and Trademark Office.
Although the NFL’s McCarthy said that the league’s trademark application concerned only “a football game played on a Sunday in February” and thus wouldn’t affect the game at Stanford or Cal, Drucker said, “Cal and Stanford still don’t want anybody to have rights to a mark that references their game. The timing of the game is somewhat irrelevant.”
McCarthy clearly misspoke. First, the NFL owns two (2) applications for The Big Game. The one that covers football games covers: entertainment services in the nature of football exhibitions; providing sports and entertainment information via a global computer network or a commercial on-line service in Class 41. I don’t see anywhere in that identification of services where the game is limited to February.
“This filing was done in regard to companies that have attempted an end-run around the term ‘Super Bowl,’ ” said Brian McCarthy, the NFL’s director of corporate communications. “So this would not affect the college game that’s played in the fall.
“It would affect somebody who was trying to intimate a relationship with the NFL or the Super Bowl. They’re trying to draft off the goodwill we’ve built up over the years.”
Asked if a local TV dealership was attempting to intimate a relationship with the NFL simply by pointing out that a customer could watch “the Big Game” on a new flat-screen TV, McCarthy said, “We sell those (sponsorship) rights. In the example you cite, we have an agreement with Samsung on flat-screen TVs. Where do you draw the line? If you don’t trademark your rights, they hold no value.”
To me, the NFL is really overreaching. The NFL is not simply protecting its rights. It is trying to prevent any reference to the Super Bowl – by anyone – unless the NFL gets paid for the mention. In the example mentioned above, to say “Come get your new TV before ‘the Big Game,’” in my opinion, does not imply any sponsorship at all. It is merely identifying a certain day of the year to sell a TV. “In time for ‘the Big Game’” in no way implies any sponsorship. Therefore, the NFL’s attempt to prevent any reference to the game known as the Super Bowl played on a Sunday in February is not a matter of protecting its trademark.
It’s trademark is the Super Bowl – not “The Big Game.” The fact that “The Big Game” obviously implies the Super Bowl is not trademark infringement and does not falsely imply sponsorship.
Furthermore, insofar as others have been using the phrase to refer to the Super Bowl (or the Cal-Stanford) game, it seems that rights in the trademark The Big Game rest with almost anyone other than the NFL. I suspect “The Big Game” was first used by sportscasters decades ago to identify the Super Bowl.
To date, about 20 companies or individuals have obtained extensions of time to oppose the NFL’s The Big Game application. This should be an interesting conflict to follow.