COLUMN: Super Bowl commercialism is super bull

Chris Marshall

For two solid weeks, every advertiser spends their time and money focusing on the Super Bowl. Even if they can’t afford a $3 million 30-second ad during the game itself, businesses of all sizes want to capitalize on the biggest game of the year.

Bars want you to watch “The Big Game” at their establishment, snack manufacturers want you to munch on their food during “The Big Game” and more than anything, sports networks want you to follow their 24-hour coverage of, you guessed it, “The Big Game.”

So when did the AFC and NFC champions stop playing in the Super Bowl and begin playing in, what everyone is now forced to call, “The Big Game?”

The NFL has always owned the rights to the name “Super Bowl,” but it wasn’t until the last decade that the league started going so far out of its way to enforce the trademark. The policing of commercials and ads has gotten progressively worse and “The Big Game” alias has become a not-so-secret way of talking about the Super Bowl without getting in trouble for it, similar to the way kids use slang in texting to avoid getting caught by their parents. And like a 13-year-old with daddy issues, businesses that want to run Super Bowl promotions just want the advertising watchdogs to give them some space and STFU.

I don’t blame them.

For all the hype and hoopla leading up to the NFL’s title game, it seems that nobody is allowed to call the championship by its actual name anymore. When ESPN’s Stuart Scott is sitting outside Sun Life Stadium (formerly known as Land Shark Stadium and before that Dolphin Stadium) talking about “The Big Game” (formerly known as the Super Bowl), you know the obsession with names and branding has gotten out of hand.

The stadium hosting the 2010 Super Bowl has changed its name seven times in the last 20 years, and even sportscasters who have permission to say “Super Bowl” are habitually calling it “The Big Game” because, hey, everyone else is.

In 2007, the NFL even tried to trademark “The Big Game” before realizing Cal-Stanford started using the phrase more than 110 years earlier. Commercialism at its finest.

If the trend of paying for the use of names continues, corporations will eventually purchase the rights to teams just like they have with stadiums. Major League Soccer squads are already starting to name themselves after energy drinks and NFL teams play in buildings that sound more like a mall than a football venue: Qualcomm Stadium, Bank of America Stadium and worst of all Invesco Field at Mile High Stadium.

Perhaps the only reason Kansas City hasn’t sold the naming rights to Arrowhead Stadium is because of the morals instilled by former owner Lamar Hunt, who came up with the name “Super Bowl” in the first place and would never dream of watching the Chiefs play a home game on Sprint Field.

It’s a slippery slope in the multi-billion dollar industry that is professional sports: businesses will pay millions to advertise in “The Big Game” or to have their name attached to a stadium, but at the same time, the NFL doesn’t want those same businesses promoting “The Big Game” for free.

If this keeps up, the regulation of names will go so far out of control that it will be hard to keep track of who’s suing who. An innocent name, “Super Bowl,” has become such a hot commodity that people pay just to say it. It’s almost surprising the league hasn’t tried selling the rights to Roman numerals X, L, I and V.

Fortunately for the NFL, there is no “W” Roman numeral. The last thing they need is a messy court case with Wisconsin.