How to Host a Church Super Bowl Party without Copyright Penalties

Christmas and Easter present a creative platform for churches to reach their surrounding communities, but sandwiched between these holidays is a ubiquitous cultural event in February with just as much evangelistic drive. Super Bowl LI (51) is only 26 days away, and churches are busy making plans for the Big Event viewing parties.

Who will face off in Houston on February  5 is still up for grabs, as this past weekend’s wild-card football frenzy resulted in surprise performances and thrilling finishes. Eight teams are still in the hunt and it will take two more weekends of battles before the final NFC and AFC champions square off for the title.

The Super Bowl has become one of America’s most sacred national holidays, and many church leaders are planning a dynamic “friendship evangelism” celebration. Super Bowl 51 will be hosted at NRG Stadium and “Big Game” viewing parties provide churches with a warm and dynamic evangelistic opportunity to reach out to their community. But what copyright issues should churches consider?

Although the US Copyright Law outlines specific limitations for public showing of TV shows  (see US Code Title 17, Chapter 1, Section 110), there is good news for churches and other religious organizations, if they want to host Super Bowl viewing parties. The good news is that, as in the past several years, churches can host Super Bowl parties without fear of penalties and interference from the NFL for copyright infringement…IF they stay within certain boundaries.

Thanks to concessions by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, the NFL will not block religious organizations from hosting Super Bowl viewing parties. There are some important rules, however, to follow to side step possible copyright infringement:

  1. Churches must show the game live on equipment they use in the course of ministry at their premises; recordings of the show are not permitted.
  2. Churches cannot charge admission for the party. The NFL has stated, however, that churches may take up a donation to defray the cost of the event.
  3. It’s advisable for churches to call the event a “big game” party rather than a “Super Bowl” party, as both the “NFL” and “Super Bowl” are trademarked and protected intellectual property. For example, one church last year called their event a “Souper Bowl” party and asked for donations of canned soup for a local ministry.

The Super Bowl has the largest economic impact of any regular human event with literally every demographic engaged in this annual national fervor. While churches don’t try to make money on the Big Game, they often promote events to view the classic clash as a great chance to engage in “friendship” evangelism.

There are several elements of intellectual property rights involved in the Super Bowl, which falls under both Copyright and Trademark protection. This gives the National Football League (NFL) ownership of the rights to the text, images, photographs, video, audio, graphics, user interface, and other content provided on their services, and the selection, coordination, and arrangement of such content. This also gives them the rights to the product names, company names, trade names, logos, product packaging and designs. Any non-official of the NFL who is advertising or transmitting any of this content is viable to infringement.

The NFL has been accessible and supportive over the years in talking with CCS about questions churches have regarding hosting viewing parties. We recently had a chance to speak with an NFL representative regarding the NFL’s policies for churches and ministries.

CCS: “Many Churches enjoy gathering together to watch the Super Bowl each year, but they are unsure about necessary steps they must take in order to stay copyright compliant when doing so. What requirements must a church meet in order to host a “viewing party”?

NFL: “If a church holds their “viewing party” in its usual place of worship and does not charge a fee for attending such viewing party. The NFL will not object when a church has a party for its congregants to watch the Super Bowl together.”

A key point in the NFL’s response to churches is its allowance of a viewing party in its “usual place of worship.”  This is an important qualification to understand. We understand that many churches do not have a typical church campus and many use rented public spaces to conduct worship services. Here is the NFL’s position on these situations.

CCS: “Many churches that hold regular services meet in rented spaces (i.e. convention centers, hotel conference centers, movie theaters, and school auditoriums). Does your previously mentioned statement regarding “usual place of worship” also apply to churches in these situations?”

NFL: “No, the NFL’s grant of permission is with respect to the church property (not rented spaces).”

CCS: “We also understand that it is important for churches not to use registered trademarks of the NFL in any promotional materials, including via social media or their website concerning the viewing party. How can NFL trademarks be properly licensed for use?”

NFL: “If a church is only using NFL marks and no logos to describe the party in materials distributed to its congregants, the NFL will not object. For example, you can refer to the party as the Super Bowl party and you can refer to the two teams participating (i.e., last year “Denver Broncos  vs. Carolina Panthers”), but a church cannot use the NFL Shield, Super Bowl or Club logos.”

CCS: “Lastly, since the Super Bowl is on a Sunday evening, many churches may be unable to view the full game due to conflicts with established worship services. Could a church utilize a digital recording device to make a temporary copy of the game (such as a TiVo, DVR, etc.) so they could watch the game together in its entirety?

NFL: “Yes, the NFL will not object to this. Any additional uses outside the scope of the activities listed above would require permission and licensing from the NFL.”

Churches also often play or perform music at their facility during a viewing party. Does the NFL include the music performance rights during a Super Bowl party, or does that require a specific license? The NFL does not cover the music performance rights for playing or performing music in a facility or online. CCS’s PERFORMmusic (ONSITE) and WORSHIPcast Licenses (ONLINE) provide comprehensive coverage for 20 million songs from ASCAP, BMI and SESAC that allow you to legal play music ONSITE in all your church facilities and ONLINE on church websites. You will receive a 10% discount when you sign up for both ONSITE and ONLINE with the BUNDLE License.

If you have questions about this or any other copyright-related activity for your church, contact our copyright expert at 1-855-5SOLVER (576-5837). Or visit www.christiancopyrightsolutions.com to access our learning center and download FREE fact sheets, blog, and other informative resources.

CCS’s Founder and CVO, Susan Fontaine Godwin is an educator and long-time member of the Christian arts community with 30 years of experience in the Christian media industry, church copyright administration, and copyright management. Susan is an author and speaker and frequently writes for several Christian magazines and online publications. She serves as an adjunct professor at the University of Mobile.

About Christian Copyright Solutions: CCS’s quest is to help churches and Christian ministries “do music right.” CCS is an expert on church music copyrights and our primary focus is providing licensing and clear educational resources to churches, as well as representation, administration, and advocacy for copyright owners. Follow us on TwitterFacebook, and YouTube. The information contained herein is for informational purposes only and is not legal advice or a substitute for legal counsel.