NFL crackdown on NJ ‘Super Bowl’ party may shed light on bigger picture

Notice how event planners and advertisers play linguistic gymnastics when promoting things that correspond to big occasions like the Super Bowl or the Final Four?

It’s not a "Super Bowl" sale, it’s "big savings for the Big Game."€ And so on.

Such is the case in East Rutherford, NJ (site of Super Bowl XLVIII), where a "Super Bowl" block party had its arm twisted into calling itself €œ"The Meadowlands Tailgate Party Live from East Rutherford."

"Do I feel snubbed?" East Rutherford mayor James Casella told "This is the way it has always been. I never expect more."

Those words come from a place deeper than trademark beef, but we’ll get to that later.

The situation with the linguistic gymnastics exists because of a principle in trademark law. In order to successfully defend trademarks against serious threats, the owner needs to be able to demonstrate that the owner has always aggressively defended the marks, no matter how non-threatening the infringement appeared to be. This aspect of trademark law often resulted in large corporate entities bullying mom-and-pop types into changing the name of something or another and it invariably comes across in media reports as petty and villainous.

So now we bring forth, for the Court of The Public Opinion, the case of the Super Bowl v. East Rutherford, NJ.

The particulars are as follows: The Super Bowl is being held in East Rutherford Sunday (on FOX), so naturally the townsfolk wanted to have a block party. They wanted to give the party a name that included the words "€œSuper Bowl."

However, unlike your house ‘Super Bowl’ party, the East Rutherford event is a commercial endeavor, which the NFL is not sponsoring it. This means the NFL cannot —€“ by principle of law —€“ allow the city to use the term "Super Bowl" without accepting as a consequence that such inaction could be used against it in a more consequential trademark case.

The NFL’s position is simple and unspecific to this ordeal, but it passed it along to anyway.

"In order to best control the use of our marks in connection with the Super Bowl, we do not allow host cities to use the Super Bowl marks for commercial purposes (e.g. sponsored SB events, parties)," the statement read. "It is part of our general control of trademark usage and our desire to protect messaging around the game and avoid conflicts."


The snub at play is that the NFL did identity two official "host cities," but didn’t even consider East Rutherford, where the game is being played. Instead it chose Montclair (11 miles from the stadium) and Hope (58 miles).

For the people of East Rutherford, this plays into some long-held resentments toward the NFL and New York City. Most relevantly, that two NFL teams (Jets, Giants) play their games in New Jersey, but refer to themselves as New York teams.

"€œI think it’s an absolute disgrace,"€ Michael Hildebrandt, 34, a lifelong East Rutherford resident of told "€œIt’s a total smack in the face of the borough of East Rutherford and their citizens."

The guy who organized the block party isn’t angry about the name thing. He just feels disrespected in general.

"€œI don’€™t blame (the NFL). It’s their brand," Ron Simoncini said. "But in East Rutherford’s case, I would have expected that the host committee would have gone out of their way to cultivate relations. But they haven’€™t.

"They’€™ve embittered a region. This is a culture clash and unfortunately, sometimes people just can’€™t get along."€