The National Football League, in an effort to protect its valuable commercial rights as well as its reputation as the biggest corporate bully in sports, is attempting to trademark the phrase "the Big Game."
This just in: The NFL plans to try to trademark the phrase "corporate bully."
The league filed a trademark application for "the Big Game" in February 2006, and that action was posted for public comment last month. A number of companies, including Wal-Mart, the nation's largest retailer, have asked for time to file a formal objection.
The NFL wants to stop the practice of marketers piggybacking on the popularity of the Super Bowl without paying for the privilege, a gambit accomplished by referring to the big game as "the Big Game." Super Bowl week advertising is routinely filled with exhortations for fans to buy everything from chips and salsa to flat-screen TVs "for the Big Game."
The NFL is famously not shy about protecting its rights. This is a league that this year sent a cease-and-desist letter to a church that had planned a Super Bowl-watching party. Have to pony up for the rights if you want to get a big group together to watch the Super Bowl. Er, the Big Game. I mean, uh, the championship contest.
Stanford and California, the two Bay Area universities whose annual rivalry football game has been known as "the Big Game" for more than 100 years, are among those who are considering a formal objection, though the NFL has said it has no interest in messing with college traditions, only in keeping advertisers from associating themselves with the Super Bowl without paying rights fees.
Full disclosure: This column graduated from Cal, twice. It has no particular interest in the university's trademark battles but just wants to mention at this point that Stanford is a nasty little place.
This column, already a vigorous defender of its trademark on the phrase "What the Heck," plans to apply for a trademark on the phrase "this column." And maybe "full disclosure."
More full disclosure: This column is not a lawyer. This column isn't even a smart nonlawyer. It's just sort of a boob, to be honest. (Note to self: Initiate trademark search on the phrase "sort of a boob.")
But doesn't it also seem to you that the NFL is pushing a really dumb rock up a really big hill here, with little payoff at the really silly top?
Let's say the league is able to get a trademark on the Big Game. It doesn't take a lot of imagination for marketers to get around that obstacle, and if there's one thing in this world we can all count on, it's an industry with something to sell using its imagination to get around an obstacle to selling it.
So you'll be told to get that flat-screen in time for the game. And when the NFL trademarks "the Game" -- assuring Harvard and Yale that it has no problem with their annual football contest -- you'll be told to stock up on chips and salsa for football. Or for your big football party.
Shoot, if the Super Bowl were scheduled for Feb. 6 one year, your local supermarket could start saying, "Stock up on snacks for Feb. 6" around New Year's and you'd know what it meant.
The NFL appears to be made of Teflon, from a public-relations standpoint. No amount of No Fun League bullying of fans, advertisers, sponsors or players, no amount of publicity about the league's indifferent response to the destroyed lives and bodies of former players, seems capable of turning the customers off.
That's because the product is so good. It's so good, in fact, that the NFL has succeeded in turning its championship game into a national holiday. But national holidays belong to the nation, not to one company. The NFL wants it both ways. Thanks to the ingenuity, or just the sneakiness, of American marketers, it's not going to succeed, even if it wins the trademark fight over "the Big Game."
Even a guy like me, who's sort of a boob, can understand the principle that companies must vigorously defend their trademarks or risk losing them. We also know it's a waste of time to fight battles that can never be won, which is what the NFL is doing here.
If I had a business I'd make a big production right now over a pledge never to use the words "big game" in regard to the Super Bowl. I'd invite other businesses nationwide to use the name of my business -- King's Bait & Tackle, let's say -- as a synonym for any big sporting event. They could all say, "Get your flat-screen TV in time for the big King's Bait & Tackle Sunday, if you know what we mean."
Hey, free publicity. On the NFL's dime. Probably wouldn't work, but it might be Super.
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Duke's combative foul: Another bad NCAA rule [PERMALINK]
I always worry when I find myself agreeing with CBS college basketball analyst Billy Packer, but it happened again Sunday after the weekend's signature moment, the foul that bloodied the nose of North Carolina forward Tyler Hansbrough.
"That's a bad piece of officiating," Packer said after Duke's Gerald Henderson was ejected for committing what officials called a combative and flagrant foul. The ejection meant Henderson was also hit with a one-game suspension, meaning he'll miss Duke's first game in the ACC tournament.
I don't think the officials did a bad job, exactly. I think they had a bad NCAA rule -- is there any other kind? -- to work with in that automatic subsequent suspension.
The game was in garbage time, having been decided in North Carolina's favor, when Hansbrough went up for a shot underneath with 16 seconds left after getting a rebound. Duke's Steve Johnson swiped at the ball and blocked the shot from behind.
Henderson, coming over from the weak side and already in the air, starting to swat with his right hand when the ball squirted toward the free-throw line, twisted in midair as he brought his arm down. His elbow clocked Hansbrough in the nose, and Hansbrough crumpled, arising moments later with a face full of blood.
Though Henderson's swat was flamboyant, he was clearly going for the ball -- as, sigh, Packer pointed out. If he'd meant to club Hansbrough, he wouldn't have twisted to follow the flight of the ball.
Hansbrough left the game but was reportedly OK afterward.
Ejecting a player for even inadvertently injuring an opponent with a hard foul is fine by me. Players should be responsible for keeping themselves in control during game play. The suspension, though, is an overreaction.
If suspensions are to be handed out over hard fouls, that should be done after careful deliberation and study of the video, not in the heat of the moment with 20,000 fans booing and screaming and potentially getting out of hand. Fortunately, despite the long delay Sunday, one caused by the officials being forced to carefully deliberate as the North Carolina crowd hooted and the players and coaches fidgeted around them, the crowd in Chapel Hill didn't get out of hand. It probably helped that the game wasn't in doubt.
It should have been an easy, quick call for the refs to toss Henderson, without having to worry about the implications for the next game. That's one more rule the NCAA should change. How many does that make? I've lost count.
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