Baseball card collectors of a certain age will remember breaking open a pack of 1987 Topps, excitedly hoping to find a young Mark McGwire or Jose Canseco, and inevitably finding ORIOLES LEADERS, with a dramatic photo of Earl Weaver leaving the mound after a pitching change.
Times change. Now, a baseball card collector will open a pack of Topps, excitedly hoping to find a young Kris Bryant or Bryce Harper, and inevitably find the SAN DIEGO PADRES™ TEAM CARD, with a dramatic photo of a dugout fist bump.
It’s that ™ that catches the eye as much as anything. For some teams, there’s the ® of a registered trademark instead of the ™ of a run-of-the-mill trademark. Over the last 30 years, professional sports leagues and teams have recognized the value of protecting intellectual property in a way that no ordinary person could possibly hope to comprehend. Is it really necessary, on the card celebrating Joey Votto finishing third in the race for the batting title, to note that listed are the 2016 National League™ Batting Average Leaders, with ™ or ® accompanying every team name on the list?
Of course it’s not necessary. It’s ludicrous. Who would be trying to profit off the use of these team names on a baseball card? Nobody. All that’s accomplished is an aesthetic nightmare, not to mention a slap in the face to DJ LeMahieu, the actual National League batting champion, who apparently isn’t popular enough to get a baseball card celebrating his feat.
At least when the NFL fiercely protects the phrase “Super Bowl,” there’s a point, not allowing companies to tout a connection to the Super Bowl unless they have paid for the privilege. But it’s also silliness that ultimately serves a deleterious purpose.
The NFL is an entertainment business, and as such, would like for as many people as possible to watch the Super Bowl. High viewership for the Super Bowl is what the NFL hangs its hat on, and the reason that the Super Bowl is such a moneymaker.
To watch the Super Bowl, you need a television set, and if you want a television set, you can go to Best Buy, which has Super Bowl deals on televisions. Except, because Best Buy is not an official NFL sponsor, when you go to Best Buy’s website, you’re told, “BRING YOUR A-GAME TO THE BIG GAME.”
Maybe they mean Manchester City against Swansea City. Or Clippers-Celtics. Or Oilers-Canadiens. All of those are games that are happening on Sunday, and depending on your sporting interests, might be bigger to you than the Falcons and the Patriots in Super Bowl LI.
So, maybe it’s just a case of Best Buy looking to add sales on the margins, luring people who have had the Nebraska-Iowa basketball game circled on their calendar since they bought their calendar last week for 99 cents, looking to save money for the perfect deal on a big TV to watch that game. Or maybe Best Buy is using a stock photo of a FOOTBALL PLAYER to indicate that the big game being referenced is the one they don’t have the rights to say the real name of.
This is necessarily stupid for Best Buy, because they know people are going to want new TVs to watch the Super Bowl, but they can’t say Super Bowl. It’s unnecessarily stupid for the NFL, which should want “Super Bowl” said as often as possible, because until 100% of TVs new and old are tuned to the Big Game, the league has not accomplished its goal of complete domination of American consciousness. Best Buy wants to have a Super Bowl sale? Great! That’s a free ad for the NFL, which should thank a non-sponsor for promoting their product.
This is not, however, how the NFL thinks. This is the same league that banned its own teams from posting GIFs of game highlights, ostensibly to protect its TV partners, as if any GIF-worthy play isn’t being turned into a GIF by a thousand different people and going viral anyway. Shouldn’t the league want its teams to reap the benefits of all those clicks, which convert to social media followers, which convert to deeper embedding of the product, through official channels, in the minds of consumers?
It should. But it doesn’t. When it comes to the Super Bowl and making sure that the only way to give the NFL promotion is to pay for the privilege, instead of allowing official sponsors to keep paying and brand themselves in a premium fashion, it’s a Big Game where the league is playin' itself.