As we approach NCAA Tournament time, it’s close to the period where we hear about “March Madness” sales. You know them, they come from electronics stores selling TV’s, restaurants or groceries with their specials, even car dealers get in on the act. But unless their parent companies are somehow affiliated with the NCAA as “corporate champions” or “corporate partners,” the use of March Madness is tightly restricted.

Now if you or I use “March Madness” in a conversation or in a blog post or your local newscast uses it, that’s ok, but as the term is trademarked by the NCAA, any company using it for marketing purposes without being one of those said “corporate champions” or “corporate partners” could hear from a lawyer.

From its “NCAA Trademark Protection Program,” the organization states:

“The NCAA must be vigilant against the unauthorized use of its trademarks, tickets and references to its championships.”

Now you may think the NCAA may have just a handful of trademarks, but think again. They have trademarked several slogans including “Final 4,” “Final Four,” “First Four,” “Frozen Four,” “March Madness,” “March Mayhem,” “Elite Eight,” “Elite 8,” “Road to the Final Four,” and even “And Then There Were Four.” The whole list is here.

And if you want to use any or all of the trademarks, the NCAA says you must get expressed written consent:

“In conjunction with its championships, the NCAA has developed licensing and marketing programs that make use of the NCAA’s trademarks and championships marks. Such programs are carefully controlled and aggressively protected to be consistent with the purposes and objectives of the NCAA, its member institutions and conferences and higher education.

“Only NCAA corporate champions and partners are authorized to use tickets in advertising, marketing or promotional activities (e.g., giveaways).

“Please refrain from any direct or indirect usage of the NCAA’s championships, tickets or marks/logos unless and until you have obtained the prior written consent of the NCAA and specifically our corporate alliances staff.”

It’s like the marketers who reference “Big Game” when they really mean “Super Bowl” and those companies who try to market around the restrictions regarding the Olympics.

So if your company is preparing a March Madness sale, just know that unless your boss has permission from the NCAA or is affiliated with one of its “corporate champions” or “corporate partners,” be careful on how it’s referenced otherwise a cease-and-desist letter could be on the way.

[Broadcast Law Blog]

About Ken Fang

Ken has been covering the sports media in earnest at his own site, Fang's Bites since May 2007 and at Awful Announcing since March 2013.

He provides a unique perspective having been an award-winning radio news reporter in Providence and having worked in local television.

Fang celebrates the four Boston Red Sox World Championships in the 21st Century, but continues to be a long-suffering Cleveland Browns fan.

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