NFL Bans Church Super Bowl Parties

February 3, 2007 by

Tomorrow is the Super Bowl, in case you didn’t know (I had to look it to be sure, so don’t feel bad), and amid all the stories about commercials and the halftime show and, oh yeah, the game itself, is a little story about the National Football League shutting down local church Super Bowl parties (best headline? “Wrath of NFL Smites Parties at Churches”).

It seems churches are running afoul of the NFL’s broadcast copyrights, including the following limitations:

  • No unauthorized use of the copyrighted terms (i.e., “Super Bowl”) in promotions.
  • No charging admission to watch the Super Bowl™.
  • No public showings of the big game on TVs larger than 55 inches.

An exception is made for sports bars and other places that regularly show sporting events.

So what’s a church to do?

Following the rules is probably the safe thing to do. I’m tempted to say churches should buck the law and have their Super Bowl&#8482 party anyway.

It’s plainly obvious that the NFL is being stupid and this is just the latest example of old school giants not understanding the new social- and community-oriented world (and that’s not really anything new, it’s just better and more easily organized). Large gatherings of people eagerly watching the Super Bowl&#8482 and its accompanying commercials should make the NFL, CBS and all the advertisers forking out millions of dollars absolutely giddy. Instead the NFL is worried about not being able to measure that giddiness and therefore translate it into a cash equivalent. So rather than at least helping their advertisers by encouraging more people to watch, they’re screwing over the advertisers by shutting down parties that will easily draw more Super Bowl&#8482 watchers than if the parties are shut down.

So not only is the NFL giving the finger to churches and fans, they’re also giving the finger to their own advertisers. Wow. And we thought church marketing sucked.

I’m tempted to say churches should return the favor and have their parties anyway. But there’s some line about turning the other cheek that seems applicable. And something about obeying the law. Besides, it’s not like this is Christmas and churches are being closed. Or telling people about Jesus is being outlawed. It’s just an event. Granted an event where we could tell people about Jesus, but there are always other methods. This doesn’t seem like the one issue to risk being sued over.

Churches should just find another method. It’s last minute, but maybe there’s a fun way to have a non-Super Bowl™ party or dozens of mini-Super Bowl™ parties that can easily follow the NFL’s rules. Or maybe it’s too late and it’s time to just move on and hope the NFL gets a clue next year.

Update: The NFL has sent out some revised guidelines, trying to minimize the backlash among churches. The guidelines are incredibly vague though, so it’s your best guess as to what they actually mean.

Post By:

Kevin D. Hendricks

When Kevin isn't busy as the editor of Church Marketing Sucks, he runs his own writing and editing company, Monkey Outta Nowhere. Kevin has been blogging since 1998, runs the hyperlocal site West St. Paul Reader, and has published several books, including 137 Books in One Year: How to Fall in Love With Reading, The Stephanies and all of our church communication books.
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8 Responses to “NFL Bans Church Super Bowl Parties”

  • Dave
    February 3, 2007

    Seems the NFL may have gotten a clue. According to The Christian Post ( th league sent out a reissued policy regarding churches showing the Super Bowl among their congregations.
    “They highlighted the “homestyle exemption” which allows viewings that would normally violate the law as noninfringing. In the exemption, a performance of a televised game will be excused if such performance is ‘on a single receiving apparatus of a kind commonly used in private homes.’ This is provided that the hosts do not charge a fee or transmit it as a public event.
    “Considering that big-screen televisions and even projection units are now common in homes, it provides a mean for churches to show the games again.”
    Still fuzzy. But a move in the right direction, I say

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  • Tim McGhee
    February 3, 2007

    I asked a member of NFL’s counsel about this and they replied:
    “Under Section 110(5) of the Copyright Act, an establishment may only show the Super Bowl broadcast in a viewing party if: (1) it does not charge admission; and (2) it is shown on a television of a kind commonly used in private homes. Later in the statute, a reference is made to 55-inch televisions which appears to be the standard used to describe the size of television that fits into this definition.
    “The National Football League has absolutely no objection to churches and others hosting Super Bowl viewing parties as long as they do not charge admission and that the game is now shown on larger screens (greater than 55” under the statute) or multiple screens per room.
    “It’s not true that sports bars can show it for free. They have to pay.
    “Here’s the problem: if the NFL allows in churches and other venues what they oppose in Las Vegas, then their legal hand against gambling interests would be weakened. They can’t allow elsewhere what they [don’t] permit in Las Vegas.”
    10,835 days

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  • David Hudson
    February 3, 2007

    Who says they get to chose who can watch the signals that they send out freely over the air waves? It enters the church via those radio waves whether we like it or not! When did they get the right to create their own copyright rules?

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  • Anthony D. Coppedge
    February 3, 2007

    They don’t get to choose their own copyright rules. They’re THE copyright rules, at least here in the U.S. Why is this such a big deal?
    They own the copyright, we don’t. Yes, it’s broadcast, but there are still limitations on what you can and can’t do with broadcast material (which is why there are re-broadcast licenses, like those paid by sports bars).
    And, no, Fair Use isn’t going to save you (and in all honesty, it rarely does when it comes to material that has a copyright). I’m honestly surprised at how many churches are still ignorant of getting licenses for copyrighted material. It’s not hard, usually free or inexpensive, but does take time.
    Oh, that’s right – God can’t move ahead and give us sermon notes ahead of time, nor is he able to help us practice and prepare for weekend services, nor can we really expect Him to give us creativity that matches the need for planning. Nope, seems that’s only capable for those in the secular world who constantly have success after success when the you plan, prepare and perform with excellence.
    Gee…though it seems that God used to be all about planning and excellence. I mean, hey, it wasn’t just any old tent fabric or wood that he described back in Exodus, Chapter 25. Oh, but that’s right…we’re under Grace now and all that old stuff is covered since we’re much smarter now. Riiiiight.

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  • Rob
    February 4, 2007

    This recent article from quoted an NFL spokesperson saying:
    “The National Football League has absolutely no objection to churches and others hosting Super Bowl viewing parties as long as they do not charge admission and show the game on a television of the type commonly used at home.
    “We are simply following copyright law and have done so with regard to any type of commercial establishment including hotels, theatres, museums, schools, arenas and others.
    “This is nothing new. It is a matter of longstanding policy and the law.
    “We have no rules that relate to viewing at home on any type of television.”

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  • Ryan
    February 7, 2007

    I am extremely worried that someone who would use the kind of language Kevin used in this article is not only a lifetime church-goer, but even a leader and role model for children. What kind of example does that set? A friend of mine said about such language, “it’s almost like they’re trying to get as close as possible to profanity without crossing the ‘line.” Is that the kind of attitude God would have you instill in the youth of your church?
    As for the No Fun League, they are of the world. James 4:4 “4Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.”

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  • Rosemary
    February 4, 2008

    Ryan, can you clarify please? What language did Kevin use in his article that was troubling to you? Thanks!

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  • Josh Hatcher
    January 21, 2009

    I think Ryan is just being ridiculous.

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