Basketball Madness!

By Debby Winters

You may be wondering if your business can make money off the Basketball Madness, referred to as “March Madness” that ends tonight with the final game. I don’t recommend it!

The NCAA is serious about registering trademarks. It has not only trademarked the phrase March Madness® but has also filed for Elite Eight, NCAA Sweet Sixteen, March Mayhem, and The Big Dance. Therefore proceed with caution when making reference to the NCAA tournament in any way. It is also recommend that you avoid blatant basketball imagery such as basketballs and hoops, since these might be argued to imply an association with the NCAA event. Basketball Madness is BIG Business!

Just to be on the safe side, you can always pursue a license to use the phrases protected by trademark registration. The NCAA’s trademarks (like many NCAA teams) are managed by a company called the Collegiate Licensing Company. The fees just to apply for a license will cost anywhere from $4,500 to $21,000 or more, and this doesn’t include the royalties you’ll be paying! For sure it isn’t cheap!  The better way to go is to avoid using these trademarked phrases all together.

AND don’t think that you can use the terms and they won’t notice. In recent years, the NCAA has ramped up its trademark enforcement efforts, sending hundreds of cease-and-desist letters to those who use its trademarks in even the most innocuous ways. According to the NCAA, it does not matter that an accused infringer’s business has absolutely nothing to do with athletics. Indeed, the NCAA has demanded that travel booking websites take down offerings that advertise Final Four trips. The NCAA was also successful in a trademark dispute with an adult website that displayed a bracket featuring porn stars alongside naughty plays-on-words utilizing the NCAA’s trademarks. The NCAA doesn’t let anyone use their trademarked phrases!

My advice is to stay away from these entirely. Instead, think about the other intellectual property that surrounds basketball. The basket ball itself was patented in 1929 U.S. Patent 1718305.  Then there’s the patent for the basketball basket U.S. Patent 2061152 and the basketball shoe U.S. Patent 1962526. If the final game between the Blue Devils of Duke and the Wisconsin Badgers isn’t exciting enough tonight, read some of these original patents for fun!

May the best team win!