Take a Knee or Stand? The NFL Allows Churches to Show Regular Season Football Games

Take a knee? Stand for the flag? The National Football League (NFL) is under fire because players protested racial discrimination by not standing during the national anthem. Despite the controversy, many churches are choosing not to boycott the NFL games and are hosting viewing parties of games at their church facilities.

CCS has gotten a lot of questions recently about the legality of showing football games, and fortunately, we can share some good news regarding the NFL’s policy.

Superbowl vs. Regular Season

Churches host Super Bowl viewing parties as a family friendly and dynamic evangelistic opportunity to reach out to their community, but what about copyright issues and potential infringement problems?

Churches can host Super Bowl parties without fear of penalties and interference from the NFL for copyright infringement…IF they stay within certain boundaries. Recently, we asked the NFL about regular season games and playoffs. They gave the green light as long as churches follow the same guidelines outlined for the Super Bowl.

Below is an excerpt from an interview with an NFL representative who answered key questions about how churches can legally show football games.

CCS: What is the NFL’s policies regarding showing regular season games and playoff games during the season? Does your policy only apply to the Super Bowl?

NFL:  It is acceptable for churches to follow the same guidelines throughout the season if they want to watch regular season games at their church.

CCS: Many churches enjoy gathering together to watch the football every year, but are unsure about necessary steps that must be taken 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 a “viewing party” in its usual place of worship and does not charge a fee for attending, the NFL will not object.

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

CCS: Many churches hold regular services 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 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, but a church cannot use the NFL Shield, Super Bowl or Club logos.

There are some important rules to follow to avoid being tackled with risks of copyright infringement:

  1. Churches must show the game live on equipment they use in the course of ministry at their premises.
  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. Churches must not use NFL Shield, Super Bowl or Club logos to promote the party.

The NFL has the right to put restrictions on how churches and other establishments show the games because the broadcasts, like all televised programs, are protected by copyright law. The U.S. Copyright Act specifically restricts public establishments from transmitting broadcasts on TV screens larger than 55” without paying license fees to the copyright owner. In this case, the NFL owns the rights to show the live TV broadcast of the game. Note that because the NFL’s “agreement” to allow church viewing parties was not made into law, the NFL could change its mind on enforcement of the restrictions at any time, but they have consistently lifted some of the restrictions for churches, as stated in their official response to CCS’s questions above.

Susan Fontaine Godwin is CCS’s Founder/CVO, an educator and long-time member of the Christian arts community with 32 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 Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.  The information contained herein is for informational purposes only and is not legal advice or a substitute for legal counsel.