NFL seeks to trademark ‘Big Game’

Times Staff Writer

In an effort to discourage unauthorized companies from using the Super Bowl to peddle their products, the NFL is seeking to trademark the phrase “the Big Game.”

But a college football rivalry that began in 1902 might have something to say about that.

For the record:

12:00 a.m. March 3, 2007 For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday March 03, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 0 inches; 31 words Type of Material: Correction
Football: An article in Friday’s Sports section on the NFL’s effort to trademark the phrase “the Big Game” said the Stanford-California football rivalry began in 1902. The series began in 1892.

Stanford and California, whose annual showdown is known as “Big Game,” have taken initial steps to oppose the trademark through Collegiate Licensing Co., and have obtained a three-month extension to mull their next move.

Whereas the NFL says it merely wants to protect its prized mega-event, and the sponsors who pay millions to legitimately attach their names to it, some observers are accusing the league of arrogance.


“The first emotion that jumps to my mind is sadness,” said Ted Robinson, Stanford’s play-by-play announcer. “How sad that a league as successful as the NFL would try to trademark such an extraordinarily common phrase.

“Why would you want to come across as a corporate bully by interfering with a college game that has such as a long-standing tradition -- in a market where you have two franchises.”

A league spokesman said the NFL has no issue with any rivalry in college football. Its target are marketers who make obvious references to the championship game without saying “Super Bowl” or “Super Sunday” or the like.

“You hear radio ads or TV commercials where a company would promote its product by saying, ‘Come on in before the big game’ ” said Brian McCarthy, the league’s director of corporate communications. “We’re in essence trying to stop these companies from doing an end-around on the Super Bowl.

“To some it may be comical, but to us it dilutes the value of the Super Bowl and our ability to sell those rights to our partners.”

The NFL is fiercely protective of its brand. Before this year’s Super Bowl, league executives noticed an unofficial “Super Bowl Bash” advertised on the website of an Indianapolis church. The next day, the pastor received a cease-and-desist letter by overnight mail demanding the party be canceled.

The action might lead to Cal and Stanford seeking their own collective “Big Game” trademark, just as other schools have done. Auburn and Alabama, for instance, have registered the name “Iron Bowl” in reference to their rivalry.

Last year, Texas A&M;, which holds a trademark for calling its fans the “12th man,” sued the Seattle Seahawks for infringing on that. The sides eventually settled.


Michael Drucker, vice president and general counsel for Collegiate Licensing, said while the league is within its rights to apply for the trademark and protect its Super Bowl interests, “that in no way means ... the NFL would be able to take action against the universities, who have used the mark for more than 100 years.”