Football as Football sidesteps NFL copyright with soccer-style apparel designs

A company has found an innovative way to sidestep NFL copyright and pull an end-around on the league’s licensing agreement. Football as Football has created alternate soccer style logos for each NFL team, and received indirect promotion through Fox when the network used Football by Football’s designs during a London game broadcast.

This is an interesting and original way of providing fans with unique apparel without having to license anything from the NFL. Football as Football accomplishes this by avoiding copyrighted logos or direct references to team names. However, it is easy to discern which teams inspired each design. They even reference the New York Jets on the website.

(Steve Flynn-USA TODAY Sports)
(Steve Flynn-USA TODAY Sports)

This strategy takes a rabid fan base and leverages it to sell apparel that just looks cool. It comes with risks, because if Football as Football makes enough money, the NFL’s lawyers will surely come calling. It was shocking to see the direct reference to the Jets on the website. All the leagues fiercely protect the brands associated with their respective teams. If people so readily associate Football as Football with teams, they could also associate the company with the league. The league could then pounce at any sign of diminished quality or fan displeasure to protect itself.

This also may signal to the leagues that homogeneous jerseys and gear aren’t resonating with a younger fan base. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see the NFL and Nike partner to provide a similar offering. This could also spread to other sports, and can easily be transitioned to the NBA, NHL and MLB. For now, the small company is getting a lot of publicity — and possibly a lot of revenue — thanks to a brand association without a licensing agreement.

Michael Colangelo is Assistant Director at the USC Sports Business Institute and Senior Editor of The Fields of Green.

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