While we have written on this topic in the past, because the NCAA Basketball Tournament is an annual event and the NCAA gets more aggressive each year, this information bears repeating. Because businesses sometimes tie promotions to the Tournament and use it as a marketing activity, they should be careful how they do so.
Every year we see promotions referring to terms like MARCH MADNESS or FINAL FOUR for impact. The NCAA, however, is always vigilant and aggressively protects against unauthorized uses of its trademarks, especially during the Tournament. The NCAA has a number of registered trademarks relating to the Tournament including MARCH MADNESS, FINAL FOUR, ELITE EIGHT, and THE BIG DANCE. Use of these trademarks in ways that connote come sort of connection or affiliation with the NCAA or the Tournament will likely draw an objection from the NCAA.
For instance, a bar advertising itself as the “official home of March Madness…” to draw customers to watch games makes this kind of improper connection to the Tournament because it implies an official relationship. An advertisement like this would likely draw a whistle. However, this does not mean all use of NCAA trademarks or reference to the Tournament in advertising is prohibited—only uses that improperly assert a connection or affiliation. If the same bar simply advertised “watch all of MARCH MADNESS on our big screens…” there is no implication of affiliation. Instead, this use only informs the consumer of something that is available at the bar—televised coverage of the Tournament. This is a fair use of the trademark and play could continue.
Given this, all businesses should be careful how they use NCAA trademarks and logos in their advertising. If you have any concerns about whether your Tournament advertising and promotion might draw a foul, feel free to contact one of our Intellectual Property attorneys. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 239-344-1153