With the “Big Football Game” coming up, many churches are gearing up to hold viewing parties. You may have heard in past years that the National Football League (NFL) cracked down on church parties showing the football championship game on large screen TVs. After a national outcry and threatened Congressional action, the NFL backed down and decided to allow the viewing parties, but only under certain conditions.
As a reminder, the NFL has agreed that it will permit churches to show the Super Bowl® game at church parties under the following conditions:
- Churches may only show the game on equipment that they regularly use for worship. They may not bring in additional rented audio-visual equipment.
- Churches may not charge admission. They are, however, allowed to take donations to defray party expenses.
- Churches may not record or further retransmit the broadcast of the game.
The NFL has the right to put restrictions on how churches and other establishments may show the game because the broadcast, like all televised programs, are protected by copyright. The U.S. Copyright Act specifically restricts public establishments from transmitting broadcasts on TV screens larger than 55” without paying license fees to the copyright owner. Note that because the NFL’s “agreement” to allow church viewing parties was not made into law, the NFL could change its mind on enforcement of the restrictions at any time.
Also, because the Super Bowl® name is a registered trademark of the NFL, the NFL strictly enforces commercial advertisers from using the name in any way without an official license. This is why there are so many advertisements using alternative names like “the Big Game” and other creative (or not-so-creative) phrases.
The NFL has not expressly stated whether it would or would not enforce the same trademark restrictions against churches. Nevertheless, to be on the safe side, churches may wish to avoid using the Super Bowl® name in any public advertisement of their “Big Game” parties. Some other alternative names your church could use instead are: “The national championship football game;” “That Big Game on February 3, 2013;” and Anything else but “Super Bowl”
For more information on your church or nonprofit’s use of copyrighted materials and trademarks, contact Ken Liu at firstname.lastname@example.org.