A post from student blogger Josh
Want the exclusive trademark rights to “March Madness”? So does the group that created it.
Notre Dame may have fallen from the tournament this past Easter Sunday, leaving Domers with no vested interest in March Madness whatsoever, but the history and value of the NCAA “March Madness” trademark is unaffected by our departure from the competition. Since we’ve been learning about trademarks in ethics class, I figured it would be appropriate to write a little bit about the checkered history of this particular mark.
So where did the idea for this iconic trademark actually originate? While one could suspect that the NCAA has always used this name for their tournament, in reality the term was coined as the title of a 1939 essay for the Illinois Scholastic, describing the Illinois High School Association’s (IHSA) high school basketball tournament. However, the IHSA had not gone through the process of registering their trademark until 1990. Unfortunately for the IHSA, Intersport had registered “March Madness” as a trademark in 1989, but this was resolved when the two parties came to an agreement wherein they would combine their ownership and trademark rights.
In 1995, Intersport signed over its rights to the trademark fully to the IHSA; however the NCAA had been using the term since 1982 to describe its tournament, and had sold a license of use of “March Madness” to GTE Vantage. In the ensuing case Illinois High School Association v. GTE Vantage Inc., it was found that both the NCAA and the IHSA had rights to the mark, as it the mark was deemed to have multiple uses (reference to the NCAA tournament or the IHSA tournament). The IHSA and NCAA have since formed the March Madness Athletic Association, dedicated to suing infringers of the mark. The IHSA is not able to collect royalty payments on the use of “March Madness” by the NCAA, which would certainly have been an enormous payday.
How enormous of a payday? I’m unsure. Truthfully, valuing a trademark is a complex process in which I have no experience. However, it’s not going to be an insignificant amount, just looking at the figures associated with the tournament itself. Houston, the host of the fabled “Final Four” is expecting numbers upwards of $300 million of economic impact from the tournament, and the city of Dayton (host of the “First Four”) has seen a $66 million impact since 2001 when it began hosting. In an even more spectacular display of financial figures which should be given in scientific notation, the NCAA and a combination of CBS and Turner entered into a 1.08 x 10^9 dollar agreement to broadcast the tournament from 2006 to 2020. None of the above figures include the equally stunning numbers from brackets and betting. Las Vegas sources estimate that while $9 billion was wagered legally on the NCAA tournament last year, another $7 billion was illegally gambled.
Bottom line, I’m sure that the IHSA would love to be able to collect royalty payments from the NCAA. The takeaway is simple; register your trademarks, or you just might have to share or forfeit them.