Tarnished Twenty- The FindLaw Sports Law Blog

Can TV Shows and Movies Use Official Team Logos?

Anyone who knows and loves "Any Given Sunday" remembers how frustrating it was to watch the Miami Sharks play the Minnesota Americans for the right to win the Pantheon Cup Championship, when we all knew the movie was about the NFL. So there had to be some relief when HBO's NFL-based show "Ballers" premiered on Sunday, featuring actual logos of the Miami Dolphins, Green Bay Packers, and others.

So wait -- why does HBO get to use the real thing and Oliver Stone has to make cheap team knockoffs? Don't they need permission from the NFL?

Play Fair

As it turns out, as long as official team logos are used as intended, and the use does not disparage or tarnish the trademark, shows and movies can use league trademarks without asking for consent. As entertainment lawyer Michael C. Donaldson told Business Insider:

"It's alright to say, 'This Coca-Cola takes awful.' You can say, 'I hate Coca-Cola.' What you can't say is something that misrepresents it, such as you drink a Coke and you drop dead and someone says, 'That happens all the time.'"

So as long as TV shows and movies portray brands and their trademarks in an accurate light, users don't have to get permission to use them.

Stone v. The Rock

Thus far, "Ballers" has been pretty accurate: Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson's character Spencer Strasmore has flashbacks to the pain of his playing days, and a current player is cut from the team after a fight in a nightclub. All of which sounds par for the course to NFL fans, at least these days.

Back in 1999, the NFL had a cleaner image, so depictions of drug-fueled parties, steroid use, and irresponsible team doctors, all plastered with NFL and team trademarks could have been seen as "tarnishing the shield." Which is probably why Stone had to go with Chicago Rhinos, Dallas Knights, and New York Emperors, instead of the Bears, Cowboys, and Giants we're used to.

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