With the Super Bowl being played on Sunday, that of course means it's that time of year where a truly huge segment of Americans gather in massive multitudes to sit around television sets across the country to watch the ads.
Which raisies the question about all those Super Bowl-related ads that crop up on TV in the weeks before the broadcast.
You may have noticed over the decades that in most ads leading up to the Super Bowl, the event itself is referred to as "The Big Game," where you're admonished to be sure to, among other things, "stock up on Yumm-o's Potato Chips for The Big Game," -- or some such idiotic-sounding phrase. But it's usually "The Big Game."
The reason is because the NFL has trademarked the phrase "Super Bowl," although that reason on its own isn't enough of an explanation. Rather, it's because of a law that basically requires the NFL to threaten to sue. The law says if a company doesn't threaten to sue over an infringement of its trademark, they can lose that trademark. (A company can grant a waiver, but only if someone has paid for that right.) As a result, the NFL has a storage room full of "cease-and-desist" letters that a guy name Buddy is in charge of, his whole job being to grab a form from that room and mailing it out to anyone who even seems like they might be abusing the NFL's rights.
It's why even your piddly local stores promote their Super Bowl sales, or two-for-one meals during the broadcast as being for "The Big Game." As The Motley Fool reported --
"A classic example occurred in 2007 leading up to Super Bowl XLI between the Indianapolis Colts and the Chicago Bears when the NFL sent a cease and desist letter to an Indiana church group that had advertised its party with an intent to charge admission. The letter led to several other church groups around the country to stop similar activities, the exact effect the NFL was seeking."
You may wonder why the NFL would bother. Who cares if business call it the Super Bowl? Wouldn't that even help promote the event -- which clearly is in dire need of being promoted. It's because the NFL signs up corporate sponsors for A WHOLE LOT OF MONEY each year -- Budweiser alone paid $1.2 billion to be the Official Beer of the NFL. And such deals would be worth a whole lot less without that trademark protection of the NFL logo. And so the league protects all of its trademarks. Including the Super Bowl, which sells exclusive ads for that very same WHOLE LOT OF MONEY.
(This doesn't mean the Super Bowl can't be written or talked about as "the Super Bowl." The NFL doesn't have an official newspaper, for instance, or official blog, so there's no trademark infringement. Incidentally, Elisberg Industries did make an offer, but the league chose not to accept my bid of $8.75.)
Okay, so I get it. Sort of. What I don't get is why companies have generally taken the easy road and settled on something as paltry as "The Big Game" as their default, go-to code for the Super Bowl. At least Stephen Colbert's show actually came up with a clever way to get around the trademark (not that they probably had it, but likely chose to turn it into a comedy bit to make a point). They devised a segment about the "Superb Owl," just shifting the letter "b" one space over, and Colbert would then talk about this fine creature...along with related football information.
However it's always seemed that there have to be much better ways to get around the "Super Bowl" trademark blockade than just The Big Game. For starters, you could call it exactly what it is -- the NFL Championship Game. Or the Championship Football Game. Or even the Super Game.
But there's one that's always leaped out to me as the most clever way around it all. And that's referring to the event as -- the "Super Ballgame." Most especially as a voiceover in a TV or ad, that would be almost indistinguishable from the Real Thing. (And no, I don't mean Coca Cola -- which of course is trademarked..). But even as a graphic, describing the event as the "Super Ballgame" would seem to be clearly different enough, yet obvious enough to have your rear end covered.
Perhaps the NFL would threaten to sue on that, as well. But of course, threatening to sue and winning are two entirely different matters. And maybe they wouldn't threaten. But maybe companies just feel it's not worth the effort and money defending themselves even if they felt winning was a no-brainer.
Whatever the reason, we're generally stuck with The Big Game,
Next up -- some company trademarking, "The Big Game"...
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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