Updated October 1, 2020: 

NFL trademarks are trademarks used by the National Football League to identify their products. Trademarks are an important tool for identifying the source of a good or service. Primarily, a trademark is used to prevent customer confusion.

Trademark laws in the United States are used to prevent trademarks from being used without the permission of the trademark owner. Unauthorized trademark use includes dilution, imitation, intentional confusion, or reproduction.

What Is Trademarked to the NFL?

The NFL, and the teams that make up the league, hold exclusive rights to a variety of items, including logos, the names of companies, designs, and packaging used for products. This is true whether the trademark symbol is used or not.

Some of the trademarks owned by the NFL include:

  • The words “Pro Bowl” and “Super Bowl.”
  • The logos used for the Pro Bowl and Super Bowl.
  • Names and nicknames of teams.
  • The design of helmets and uniforms.
  • Colors, emblems, and symbols.

Unlike other industries, the NFL does not offer licensing to small businesses or hobbyists. The trademark of every team in the league belongs to the NFL.

Criteria That Must Be Met Before a License Is Issued

Before a license will be issued, several criteria must be met, including:

  • Proof of business experience totaling three years.
  • Proof that you are the manufacturer of the product.
  • A prepaid royalty guarantee of $100,000.
  • A commercial insurance policy of $6 million and liability coverage totaling $12 million.
  • An application with annual reports, credit references, and product catalogs attached.
  • Demonstration that your product is of high quality.

NFL's New Product Division

It is a good idea to contact the NFL's New Product Division before submitting an application if you have created an original product that does not currently possess NFL branding. You can reach the New Products Division by email.

When you are creating a football related product, you should be sure that you use generic designs and phrasing. For instance, you could use a football player's outline, an image of a goal post, or the word “football.”

You should never use the name of a specific team, or the letters NFL, in your design or the description of your products. General phrases related to football can be used without worry. You are also allowed to use football designs or monograms in the shape of a football.

The number of a player can be used, but you can't use the player's name. The NFL cannot stop you from using a number but can take action if you mention a specific player.

If you want to make your design attractive, you could use patterns or material such as printed vinyl.

What If You Don't Get Licensed?

If you want to sell items related to the NFL but don't want to make your way through the licensing process, you should understand that the NFL will likely shut down your store if they find you are using their trademarks without approval.

In addition to having your shop closed, you may be forced to pay the NFL any profits you have earned, surrender your products, and potentially deal with a trademark infringement lawsuit. Large corporations such as the NFL have almost unlimited resources, which gives them a huge advantage in legal battles with small sellers.

The NFL maintains an active presence on online merchant sites such as Etsy and frequently has listings removed that violate their trademarks.

Can You Sell NFL Items Made With Your Silhouette Cameo?

Unfortunately, you cannot use your silhouette cameo to make NFL branded items unless you have been granted a license from the NFL.

While you can design clothing or other items however you wish, you cannot use a registered trademark without the permission of the trademark holder. If you infringe on someone's trademark, you may be prosecuted by the district attorney and forced to pay damages if found guilty.

What Happens When You Sell Fake NFL Items?

The league constantly monitors advertising and will go after compensation if they think their trademarks were infringed. They even go as far as to hire investigators to attend swap meets, visit malls, and search online for merchants that sell merchandise that's fake. Americans have their jobs taken away from those who sell fake products, although most of the real merchandise comes from China. If the goods go across state lines or are imported, it's considered a federal crime.

This shows that it's not smart to create or sell goods that are fake, as you'll likely be caught. It's considered a violation of the trademarks of the league if customers may confuse your items with the official items the league sells. It's not allowed to have tickets to an NFL game be a promotional prize unless you got authorization from the NFL or had an arrangement who is an official sponsor with permission from the league.

What Are the Notices of Trademark Infringement?

The NFL takes any intellectual property issues seriously and respects those rights of others. The league has the right to take away any content from the services for any reason they choose, including if the trademark rights of another person are infringed under the United States laws. Under the right circumstances, the NFL has the right to and will disable or terminate any user accounts that are continuous trademark infringers.

Major League Baseball Licensing

If you wish to license a Major League Baseball trademark, you can make your request on the MLB website. The system for licensing a trademark from the MLB is very similar to the process for obtaining an NFL license. There is some indication that the minimum royalty for an MLB license is $40,000.

What Is NCAA Licensing?

Every university is part of the National Collegiate Athletic Association, which assists schools to make money off their athletic programs. Every school keeps the right to use their own logos and names, but the majority of schools are licensed through the Collegiate Licensing Company. This company is in charge of licensing the majority of bowl games and big schools, such as SDSU, Arizona State, UCLA, and the University of Arizona. The exception is USC, which isn't on the client list and has their own trademark office.

What If You Don't Want to Get Licensed?

Many shirts are sold for $10 and seem too good to be true, but that's because they're counterfeit. They're often illegally made and permission has not been requested by the owners. This is because they know they can make money and get away with it. They often don't get in trouble, as they're done selling the shirts by the time anyone investigates into this.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you use the name of players for goods?

In the case that you're creating bracelets and want to put MLB player names, numbers, and team names on it, you won't be allowed to do this. You cannot profit by using someone else's name or likeness if you don't have their permission. The MLBPA holds the worldwide, exclusive right to license, sublicense, and use nicknames, signatures, numbers, names, likeness, and other publicity rights of current MLB players. Related, if you want to use multiple NFL player names to create your item, you'll have to reach out to the NFL Players Association if there are more than six players involved.

Can you create exclusive designs that have NFL logos on them in Mexico?

In general, you need to establish the fact that you were already using the Mexican trademark for your own legal reasons with permission from the Mexican court system. The United States and Mexico have a treaty where companies can file an international trademark by contacting the World Intellectual Protocol Organization. The NFL has been trying for a while to bring their game to Mexico, so they may already have their trademarks protected in Mexico.

Is it considered an infringement if a product is created that uses pictures of players that weren't copyrighted online?

A majority of material that's found online is copyrighted. Just because it's not a registered copyright or doesn't have the copyright symbol doesn't mean it's not copyrighted. The creator owns the copyright unless they assigned the rights to another person or gave the rights up. If you reproduced the players' trademark logos, that is considered a violation of the trademark owner's rights. Players have personality rights, which allow them to manage how their name and image is used commercially.

If you're selling the team logo or image on a shirt that has a picture from the internet, that would violate the school or team's trademark or the copyright of the photographer unless you have permission to use this. You would also violate the player's right if their name or image is on the shirt.

If you need help understanding NFL trademarks, you can post your legal needs on UpCounsel's marketplace. UpCounsel accepts only the top 5 percent of lawyers to its site. Lawyers on UpCounsel come from law schools such as Harvard Law and Yale Law and average 14 years of legal experience, including work with or on behalf of companies like Google, Menlo Ventures, and Airbnb.