$10M Hoops Tournament Business Puts NCAA On Offense Against Illegal Marketing
Thursday, April 3, 2014 at 05:05PM
NYSportsJournalism.com in Final Four, IMG College, MArch Madness, March Madness, NCAA, sports marketing

By Barry Janoff

April 3, 2014: When it comes to the NCAA, there are times for fun and games, and there are times when situations are anything but fun and games.

With the NCAA Div. I Men's Basketball Tournament down to the Final Four, the overseeing body of collegiate sports will be out in full force in Dallas and about 20 miles away in and around Arlington, Texas, the site of AT&T Stadium, which is hosting the semi-final games on Saturday (April 5) and the finals on Monday (April 7).

High on the NCAA's list of priorities is searching for people and places that will attempt to sell merchandise relating to the games but not sanctioned by the NCAA.

This is no small task. But the NCAA feels it is worth the time and investment.

It is estimated that retail sales of licensed merchandise during the Division I Men’s Basketball Championship exceeds $10 million, according to IMG College, which has a long-term agreement with the NCAA to administer the domestic and international licensing programs for the NCAA.

In turn, the Collegiate Licensing Co., a subsidiary of IMG College, manages the daily administration of the NCAA licensing program.

Royalties generated from the sale of “officially licensed collegiate products” go back to the NCAA and the participating universities to support scholarships and other vital programs and initiatives, according to the NCAA.

This year, CLC and the Universities of Connecticut, Florida, Kentucky and Wisconsin "will work closely with Dallas and Arlington officials as well as Homeland Security Investigations to patrol the area in search of counterfeit merchandise and any other unauthorized use of trademarks owned by the NCAA and the participating institutions," according to IMG College.

On average, 1,000 or more pieces of counterfeit collegiate merchandise, ranging from T-shirts to hats, are seized outside the host venue of the Men’s Final Four each year., per IMG College.

“Our goal is to make the men’s Final Four a positive experience for the fans and consumers by helping to protect the brands of our client institutions,” Bruce Siegal, svp and general counsel for CLC, said in a statement. “By teaming with area law enforcement in North Texas, we are able to aggressively cover the venue and event areas, stop bootleggers, and ensure that customers are not taken advantage of by merchants selling inferior and counterfeit products.”

Cracking down on illegal products and unauthorized use of NCAA trademarks, symbols and logos is not limited to the men's Final Four. The NCAA works with lawyers 24/7, 365 days a year to separate the pros from the cons for all of its sports and events.

According to the NCAA Trademark Protection Program, "The NCAA must be vigilant against the unauthorized use of its trademarks, tickets and references to its championships . . .  Federal regulations support the NCAA's efforts to prohibit the unauthorized use of the NCAA's name and trademarks or any use of NCAA championship tickets in sweepstakes, promotions or contests, or any other unfair attempt to associate with or exploit the goodwill of any NCAA championship event."

The NCAA said that its licensing program has four main objectives:

• Ensure the quality and consistency of all of the NCAA's Championship Event merchandise.
• Protect all service marks, trademarks and verbiage that relates to the NCAA (or have come to be associated with the NCAA), and to ensure that the use of these marks reflects on the NCAA in a favorable manner.
• Generate revenue to support and enhance NCAA programs and to fund scholarships, programs or services to student-athletes of our member schools and conferences.
• Protect the consumer from faulty or inferior products bearing the NCAA's trademarks.

When it comes to trademarks and logos, the NCAA has gone to great lengths to ensure that its events cannot be infringed.

“Our goal is to make the men’s Final Four a positive experience for the fans and consumers by helping to protect the brands of our client institution."

For the men's basketball tournament alone, among the terms that are trademarked and for use only by authorized NCAA partners are NCAA, NCAA Basketball, NCAA Championships, NCAA Sweet 16 and Sweet 16, The Big Dance, the Final Four, The Road to the Final Four, The Road to North Texas, And Then There Were Four, Champions Play Here, Champions Win Here, Championship City, Elite 8 and Elite Eight, First Four, Final Four Friday. (See the full list here.)

In some cases, this has forced non-NCAA partners to be very creative in marketing that relates to the basketball tournament. Among the most common phrases not yet under the NCAA legal jurisdiction: "Come to our store during the Madness that is March," "Finally, four days left in our hoops sale," and "We are planning a Big basketball Dance so join us."

“Thousands of fans will come to North Texas to celebrate the NCAA Final Four weekend, and we want them to have a safe and positive experience at all of the NCAA’s events, as well as peace of mind when purchasing souvenirs and merchandise,” Keith Martin, managing director of marketing and broadcast alliances for the NCAA. “We work with the Collegiate Licensing Company and law enforcement at our championships to protect our brand and provide a safe and orderly environment for the fans who come to support NCAA student-athletes.”

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