Hint: ‘Big Game’ = ‘Super Bowl’
SUMMIT COUNTY – So, are you going to watch that “professional football championship game” on Sunday? You know, “the big game?” Wink, wink.Oh, feel free to call it the Super Bowl on Super Sunday – so long as you’re not an advertiser, that is.Americans may have noticed the elaborate wiggling advertisers are having to do nowadays to avoid using the phrases “Super Bowl” or “Super Sunday.” That’s because the National Football League is particularly vigilant about preventing commercial use of their trademarked phrases. In fact, a few years ago the NFL even tried to trademark “The Big Game,” but later backed off. (For starters, Stanford and Cal have a 100-year history of calling their matchup “The Big Game.”)The long arm of the NFL’s lawyers extends from national advertising one sees on TV to ads in the Summit Daily News. Keystone’s Haywood Cafe, for example, has an ad saying “reserve your spot for the big game!”But does that have the same impact as just calling it what it is: the Super Bowl?”Our advertisers are frustrated because it seems like the rules have changed,” said Maggie Butler, ad sales director for the Summit Daily News. “They’re trying to find creative work-arounds, and it’s important that they have an effective message people can identify and recognize.”The Daily, Butler said, is careful with Super Bowl ads and hasn’t ever received a “cease-and-desist” letter from the NFL. She said the paper receives an annual message from the NCAA warning advertisers to avoid using the trademarked phrase “March Madness.””The NCAA monitors it very heavily,” she said. “Our goal is to make sure our advertisers stay out of trouble.”Radio has similar frustrations, according to John O’Connor, general manager of Krystal 93.”Radio is all about engaging listeners, so this rule really limits our creativity,” O’Connor said. “It can be more headache than it’s worth if you’re trying to drive traffic to a place that’s showing the game on a screen bigger than 55 inches.”O’Connor said it struck him as odd that a bar can promote NFL games all year, but then be prohibited from promoting the Super Bowl by name.”I cringe when I hear ‘The Big Game,'” he said. ” I think it’s cheesy.”Chad Huffman at the Haywood Cafe said the “Super Bowl” prohibition simply makes him have to be more creative.”It doesn’t really make that much of a difference,” Huffman said, adding that he doubts anyone will not realize the “big game” Sunday is, indeed, the Super Bowl. “You’d have to be living in a closet not to know what’s going on,” he said. “I’m still going to have a full house.”At Murphy’s Food & Spirits in Silverthorne, owner Bernie Murphy said the rule is “ridiculous.””It seems like the NFL would want a bunch of people to look in the paper, see the deals and watch the game and all the advertising,” Murphy said. “But I can’t believe they’re going to pick on a little bar in Silverthorne, Colorado.”Like Huffman, though, Murphy isn’t concerned it’ll affect business.”We’ll just call it ‘The Big Game,’ and say ‘come on down and watch it on our 17 TVs,'” he said. “Fans aren’t stupid; they’ll figure out the game is on Sunday.”
The NFL is no stranger to making news with its legal offensive line. In 2007, it pursued a church in Indianapolis for hosting a Super Bowl party that included an admission charge (for food) and showing the game on a large projector screen. Both are proscribed by the NFL’s copyright protections, which includes language precluding anyone from viewing the game on a screen larger than 55 inches.”It seems pretty remote that the NFL would find out about someone showing the game on their 55-inch TV, unless they went out and advertised it,” said Breckenridge attorney Noah Klug. “If it’s in the privacy of someone’s home, it really shouldn’t be a problem.”The NFL eventually backed off on going after churches, but this year the lawyers were fired up about commercial use of the phrase “Who Dat” – a popular cheer for fans of the New Orleans Saints. T-shirt makers in Saints country were using the phrase, and some of them received cease-and-desist letters from the NFL. But Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell said Monday T-shirt makers don’t need the League’s permission to sell shirts with the phrase “Who Dat,” as long as they don’t make other references to the New Orleans Saints or NFL.Caldwell said he had a conference call with the NFL’s general counsel to discuss cease-and-desist letters some Louisiana T-shirt makers received from the league. “They’ve conceded and they’ve said they have no intention of claiming the fleur-de-lis, which would be ridiculous, or the ‘Who Dat,’ which would be equally ridiculous,” Caldwell said in an interview. The fleur-de-lis is a traditional symbol of New Orleans that’s featured on Saints helmets.The NFL is only objecting to shirts that are marketed or presented as an official Saints or NFL product, Caldwell said. Shirts that are black and gold and say “Who Dat” can be sold, he said, if they don’t purport to be Saints gear and don’t include the team logo.The chant – “Who dat say dey gonna beat dem Saints” – is often shortened to “Who Dat” on shirts and signs and has been a mainstay at the Superdome in New Orleans since the 1980s.The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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