March Madness: Don’t let the fun harm your business…

March Madness is one of the biggest social events of the spring. We all create brackets and compete against our peers to see who can pick the winner! We attend a number of happy hours and parties to watch games while touting each point scored by your team of the evening.  

Well like the Super Bowl or the Olympics March Madness is a trademarked term and everyone needs to exercise care when using it. The mark is owned by a company partially owned by the NCAA. They are not extremely aggressive in protecting their rights, like the Olympic Committee, but when promoting an event, product or promotion it is a very important consideration.
This is not to say you cannot say or write the term March Madness but there is a right way and a wrong way to use it especially in conjunction with events and other promotions. This is a very nuanced distinction one that I will not venture to delineate. However, I will make the suggestion that it would be safer to stick to something  generic – like “it is tournament time again, and you can watch all the action at our Happy Hour this Thursday” – avoids any of the issues that might arise if you use the trademarked term in your commercial or advertisement.

Using March Madness in passing in your news, talk or entertainment programming is not going to get you into trouble. Trademark owners want the brand used and associated with the tournament. Trouble arises when using it as a branding term – trying to pass your station off as your “official March Madness station” or an advertiser suggesting that they were “the March Madness restaurant/Happy Hour” are much more likely to cause harm by trying to suggest an official connection between the product or service being sold and the trademarked term.

The issue is one of trademarks or service marks, not copyright. There is a copyright in the telecast itself, but the limitations on the right to use the name comes from trademark law.


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