IndyStar.com Metro & State
February 1, 2007
NFL's lawyers sack church's game plan
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By Robert King
The thousands of churches across the country that want to host Super Bowl parties Sunday night had better not pull out big-screen TVs, or they could face the wrath of NFL attorneys.
NFL PARTY RULES
For groups that want to host Super Bowl parties -- other than sports bars and businesses that normally show televised sports -- here are rules the NFL says must be followed:
• No admission fees (even to pay for snacks).
• Only one television (55 inches or smaller).
• No use of the words "Super Bowl" in promotional materials.
• No exhibition of the game in connection with events "that promote a message."
The NFL is telling Fall Creek Baptist Church in Indianapolis that the church's plans to use a wall projector to show the game at a party for church members and guests would violate copyright laws.
NFL officials spotted a promotion of Fall Creek's "Super Bowl Bash" on the church Web site last week and sent pastor John D. Newland a letter -- via FedEx overnight -- demanding the party be canceled.
Initially, the league objected to the church's plan to charge partygoers a fee to attend and that the church used the license-protected words "Super Bowl" in its promotions.
Newland told the NFL his church would not charge partygoers -- the fee had been intended only to pay for snacks -- and that it would drop the use of the forbidden words.
But the NFL wouldn't bite. It objected to the church's plans to use a projector to show the game on what effectively was a 12-foot-wide screen. It said the law limits the church to one TV no bigger than 55 inches.
The league even took exception to the church's plan to influence nonmembers with a video highlighting the Christian testimonies of Colts coach Tony Dungy and Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith.
"While this may be a noble message," NFL assistant counsel Rachel L. Margolies wrote in a follow-up e-mail, "we are consistent in refusing the use of our game broadcasts in connection with events that promote a message, no matter the content."
Given all the NFL's concerns, the church appears unlikely to host a Super Bowl party.
"The Colts and Tony Dungy are such good people -- and (team owner) Jim Irsay, too. We want to be supportive of our local team. I don't want to make our people choose between coming to church and watching the game. It is such a big event," Newland said.
"For us to have all our congregation huddled around a TV that is big enough only for 10 or 12 people to watch just makes little sense."
Newland said he expected there are churches across the country that are planning similar Super Bowl watch parties using big screens.
NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said the league's longstanding policy is to ban "mass out-of-home viewing" of the Super Bowl. A major exception to the rule is made, however, for sports bars and other businesses that show televised sports as a part of their everyday operations.
"We have contracts with our (TV) networks to provide free over-the-air television for people at home," Aiello said. "The network economics are based on television ratings and at-home viewing. Out-of-home viewing is not measured by Nielsen."
Newland said his church won't break the law. But he sees a double standard at work when sports bars with giant screens can charge barstool rental fees and sell food, but his church can't offer a free event for families.
"It just frustrates me that most of the places where crowds are going to gather to watch this game are going to be places that are filled with alcohol and other things that are inappropriate for children," Newland said. "We tried to provide an alternative to that and were shut down."
Call Star reporter Robert King at (317) 444-6089.