If you've been trolling the Web and browsing through retail circulars looking for an amazing Super Bowl deal on an HDTV only to find the pickings slimmer than Nicole Richie after a three-day fast, we have another suggestion: Try substituting the term "Big Game" for "Super Bowl" in your search engine.
Get a bit more action? That's because retail ads and promotions can't legally use the phrases "Super Bowl"—or even "Super Sunday"—unless the companies have paid big bucks (really big bucks) to the NFL, which owns the trademarks to the two terms. (Fortunately, exceptions are made for news organizations like Consumer Reports, or this article would have a different headline.)
It isn't surprising that the NFL vigorously tracks down violations: Organizations that don't aggressively act to protect their trademarks can lose them (just ask the makers of aspirin, escalators, or yo-yos, all trademarks that became generics due to common usage). As a result, TV retailers have to be very creative about advertising Super Bowl specials without using the words "Super" and "Bowl" together in the same sentence.
For the past several years, however, there's been an interesting wrinkle: Samsung, a major supplier of high-def TVs, had paid the NFL for the right to be called "the official HDTV of the NFL." As such, Samsung was able to use the term "Super Bowl," as well as the Super Bowl and NFL logos, in its advertising and commercials. And that had given retailers that carried Samsung TVs some creative leeway.
No "official" NFL HDTV in 2011
But this year it's going to be even more difficult, as Samsung didn't renew its deal and no other company ponied up the dough to become the NFL's "official" HDTV. As a result, no manfuacturer—and thus no retailer—is legally entitled to bill its TV sales as "Super Bowl" specials. For example, Best Buy, which is actually advertising during the Super Bowl, is quietly touting TVs for "championship football." Many other retailers' website are entirely free of football tie-ins.
But regional retailer H.H. Gregg is once again an exception, as it pushes up against the NFL's Super Bowl advertising restrictions with a website and weekly ads that sport a very Super Bowl–looking logo, complete with the words "Super" and the Roman numerals "XLV." I guess some retailers figure "Big Game" promotions call for some big-time gambles, and not just on the outcome of the game.
Perhaps other retailers will also adopt more creative end-arounds to help promote football-oriented TV sales without violating the NFL's trademarks. One possibility: Since Federal Express is the official worldwide delivery service, maybe a retailer could promise "Super Bowl XLV" delivery of new HDTV that would arrive in time for The Big Game.
Have you seen any local ads that tie in to a "Big Game" promotion? Let us know about any especially creative ways a dealer is finding to promote "super" sales without getting flagged by the NFL for encroachment.
—James K. Willcox