The Super Bowl is a slice of Americana, an opportunity for fellowship and community that many churches still embrace in the form of the popular Super Bowl watch party.
But National Football League (NFL) guidelines are very specific when it comes to hosting non-residential watch parties, and church leaders should know what they are.
Attorney and pastor Dustin Gaines of MyChurch law firm in Dallas, Texas, shares valuable insights into the ways churches can bring everyone together while complying with the rules.
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The NFL has said churches cannot charge admission for Super Bowl watch parties. Why is that?
What the NFL is saying is that it has intellectual property as it pertains to its trademarks. That’s its branding, the identity-type items, such as team names and logos. And copyright law is also in play. That is the right to transmit or broadcast the game.
Intellectual property is not something you may hold in your hands, but it is just the same as other property.
So when it comes to the Super Bowl, the NFL is saying, “This is our intellectual property, and we’re going to provide some allowances for religious organizations to show the game to congregation members.”
The general rule the NFL abides by is, if you’re in a non-residential setting and you’re broadcasting the game on a screen that is larger than 55-inches, you’re going to need to pay a licensing fee.
But the allowance given to churches is that they can have viewing parties for congregants at their place of worship but they can’t charge money.
However, a church can accept donations to help defray costs, or use it as an event as a charity drive, so long as it is not a profit-making endeavor for the church.
What if a church rents a space for a Super Bowl watch party? Can they charge admission then?
No. If you are going to have a viewing party for the Super Bowl, it has to be at your church, using your own audio-visual equipment. (By the way, it’s okay if the screen is larger than 55-inches if it is being used in your church, and it is your equipment.)
Is the NFL really paying attention to what churches are doing?
It’s kind of like an IRS agent. You don’t know when they’re going to look in and see something.
But irrespective of whether the NFL is looking, churches should commit to doing this the right way, maintaining a good testimony.
What if you would like to purchase a license from the NFL for the Super Bowl? How does that process work?
It’s a fairly simple process. The NFL is going to be able to issue the license directly, or, perhaps a church can use the copyright services it already uses.
You pay the fee, describe what you’re going to do, and receive the license to do it.
What other key recommendations would you offer churches when it comes to Super Bowl parties?
First, do not record and broadcast the game at a later date. The NFL has said you can temporarily record and replay the game the way you would use a DVR. But do not record it and say, “Come back on Monday, we’ve got a recording of the game.”
Second, churches can also get in hot water with how they advertise the watch party, particularly with branding and trademarks. And with those trademarks, the NFL has said you cannot use their visual logos, such as the NFL shield, or the Super Bowl trophy. However, you can use words like “Super Bowl,””NFL,” or the team names.
Non-compliance can be expense
Worship music and web sites can be a challenge, too
The Super Bowl and other types of watch parties are not the only way churches can expose themselves to copyright and trademark infringement claims.
Worship music, and church websites, can pose a problem, too. Take this quiz to determine whether your church is playing by the rules.