Shutdown Corner - NFL

Super Bowl Sunday is the biggest pizza delivery day of the year and two of the nation's largest chains are preparing. On Papa John's website there's no less than five references to Super Bowl XLV and the NFL. Pizza Hut's site, on the other hand, includes only a conspicuous reference to "the big game."

Flip on the TV or radio in the next few days and you'll hear a lot about the so-called "big game" or "championship football." Local car dealerships, furniture stores, electronics outlets and other advertisers will be promoting Super Bowl sales without actually saying those two words.

"Come out and save on a new HD TV before the big game." 

"Need room for your championship party? Furniture Center has couches for no money down!"

"Sunday is game day in Dallas. Stock up on party supplies at Party Central."

Why do companies promote the "big game" or "championship parties" instead of saying "Super Bowl'? And why, if there are football players in the commercial, are they always for a generic non-NFL team?

As always, it all comes down to money.

Advertisers pay huge amounts of money to become an official sponsor of the NFL. In doing so, they buy the right to use league logos, game footage, branding and the trademarked phrases "Super Bowl" and "Super Sunday." Companies that don't pay the premium resort to "ambush marketing" to get around this, hence generic phrases like "big game" and the use of non-NFL jerseys and game footage.

How much does it cost to become an official sponsor? It varies depending on the product, but for big advertisers the price can be astronomical. Anheuser-Busch is reportedly paying $1.2 billion over the next six years to become the exclusive beer of the NFL. The deal doesn't give advertising exclusivity to Budweiser (you'll see commercials from Miller Lite and Coors as well), but the Anheuser-Busch ads will be the only ones that can use NFL imagery and trademarks.

The NFL is vigilant in protecting its copyrighted phrases. Some small, local retailers may sneak by using "Super Sunday" in an ad, but generally the league's team of lawyers is successful in finding rogue advertisers and shutting them down with a cease and desist letter.

Some companies push ambush marketing to the limits. Electronics store HH Gregg features a circular that uses the word "Super" and the roman numerals "XLV." Too close for comfort? Perhaps. It wouldn't be surprising if the retailer heard from the NFL prior to the Super -- er, big game.

Bonus: Why can blogs like Shutdown Corner refer to the Super Bowl without penalty? News organizations are protected from copyright laws. 

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