With the 2019 NCAA Men’s and Women’s College Basketball Tournaments in full swing, most people probably aren’t thinking “hmm, I wonder if the NCAA owns any trademarks related to the Tournament?” But, maybe they should be.
To date, the NCAA owns over twenty-four trademarks related to its annual Basketball Tournaments. Unsurprisingly, those trademarks include such well-known phrases as “March Madness,” “Final Four”, “Elite Eight,” and “The Big Dance.” However, many would be surprised to learn that the NCAA has also trademarked such lesser-known phrases as “And Then There Were Four” and “68 Teams, One Dream.”
Primarily, organizations like the NCAA trademark non-generic phrases or slogans that are suggestive of their product (in this case, the Tournaments) in an effort to protect its rights in licensing, advertising, and its general reputation. With those goals in mind, the NCAA is not shy about protecting its trademark rights. In fact, the NCAA provides guidance on its website regarding its trademark rights, noting that the “NCAA must be vigilant against the unauthorized use of its trademarks, tickets and references to its championships.”
In particular, dealing with and working around these trademarks can pose a challenge for business owners. For example, each year bars and restaurants have the potential to see increased revenue during tourney time. Die-hard and casual fans alike come to such establishments to eat, drink, and watch the excitement of the tournament, potentially causing a boon to a business’s profit. However, potentially infringing on the NCAA’s trademark rights by, for example, using its trademarked terms to advertise to patrons can have very real negative consequences. As a result, business owners should be wary of using any terms that encroach on the NCAA’s trademarks, and should consider erring on the side of generic, non-suggestive advertising.