Why Ads Call The Super Bowl "The Big Game"

Bob Levey/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images

It's almost Super Bowl Sunday, and you know what that means: It's time to watch The Big Game. Not just that, it's also time to watch all of the commercials associated with The Big Game. Ads for beer, chips, cars, movies, and insurance will duke it out to gain your attention during The Big Game with all of their The Big Game promotional tie-ins. But what is "The Big Game," and why do Super Bowl commercials always use that generic term? Why don't they just call the game the Super Bowl like everyone else?

Believe it or not, companies are legally prohibited from using the terms "Super Bowl" or "Super Sunday" in advertising because those terms are trademarked by the NFL, which originally trademarked "Super Bowl" back in 1969. "But some companies use those terms in their advertising!" you say. Yes, they do, and that's because they've paid big bucks to the NFL for the right to do so. Companies that haven't ponied up will potentially face big fines if they use the trademarked terms without permission, which is why they so often use the loophole of calling the Super Bowl "The Big Game." That phrase is not legally protected, but when advertisers use it (often in conjunction with some non-specific football-related imagery) it's pretty obvious what "Big Game" they're talking about.

In fact, "The Big Game" has become such a common stand in for the Super Bowl that the NFL actually tried to trademark that term, too. In 2007, the league filed paperwork in an attempt to trademark the phrase, but they failed after Stanford University and the University of California filed their own paperwork challenging the trademark, since they have used the term "The Big Game" for their own annual football game for over 100 years.

OK, so then why am I allowed to write "Super Bowl" in this article to tell you that "The Big Game" is just a codeword for the Super Bowl? Because, I'm not trying to sell you anything. This article is a piece of journalism, and it isn't looking to profit off of the Super Bowl. Now, if I were to sell people tickets to read my Super Bowl article, that would be a different story. Just like how you're allowed to host a Super Bowl party, and to call it that, but if you sell tickets for said party, or somehow profit off it in any way, then you're in trouble.

The NFL makes a ton of money from Super Bowl advertising, so in an attempt to protect their intellectual property, they reserve the right to sue you if you try to profit off of the Super Bowl without cutting them in. So keep that in mind this weekend when you watch the Super Bo—err— when you watch "The Big Game."