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Is March Madness Trademarked

Is March Madness Trademarked? We’ve Got the Answer!



21 February 20243 min read

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 Is March Madness Trademarked? We’ve Got the Answer!

In the world of college sports, few events generate as much excitement and fanfare as the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s (Otherwise known as the NCAA) annual basketball tournament, popularly known as “March Madness.”

But beyond the thrilling games and bracket challenges, there lies an important question in the realm of intellectual property: Is "March Madness" trademarked?

The origin and evolution of "March Madness."

Person playing basketball

The term "March Madness" has an intriguing history that starts in the heartland of the United States.

Originally, it was coined to capture the excitement of the Illinois high school basketball tournament. 

This tournament, known for its intense competition and passionate fanbase, was a significant event in the state.

Henry V. Porter, a high school official deeply involved in these games, first introduced the term in a 1939 essay, aiming to encapsulate the fervor and enthusiasm surrounding these high school basketball contests.

For several decades, "March Madness" remained primarily linked with high school basketball in Illinois.

Its journey to national prominence began in the 1980s, when the NCAA, recognizing the phrase's evocative power, started using it for its own high-stakes event: the Division I Men's Basketball Tournament.

This annual collegiate basketball tournament, featuring college teams from across the nation vying for the championship, was a perfect fit for the energy and unpredictability implied by “March Madness.”

The NCAA's adoption of the term marked a significant transition, turning it from a regional expression into a nationally recognized symbol for one of college sports' biggest events.

NCAA trademark acquisition and enforcement (it took some negotiation)

The NCAA officially acquired the trademark rights to "March Madness" in the 1990s, following a legal battle with the Illinois High School Association (IHSA).

The agreement between the NCAA and IHSA allowed both parties to continue using the term for their respective basketball tournaments.

Since securing the trademark, the NCAA has been vigilant in protecting the "March Madness" brand.

The organization actively monitors and enforces its trademark rights, challenging any unauthorized commercial use of the term.

This includes merchandise, advertisements, or events that might suggest an affiliation or endorsement by the NCAA.

Implications of the trademark

The "March Madness" trademark has significant implications for businesses and media.

Companies wishing to use the term in advertising or on products must seek permission from the NCAA and typically pay a licensing fee.

This control allows the NCAA to protect the integrity and reputation of its tournament while capitalizing on its popularity through merchandising and sponsorships.

Fair use and limitations

It's important to note that the trademark doesn't prohibit all uses of “March Madness.”

News organizations, for instance, can use the term in reporting on the tournament under the principle of fair use.

Additionally, casual, non-commercial use of the term in conversation or on social media does not typically infringe on the NCAA tournament trademark.

Proactive protection — avoiding issues with the NCAA

NCAA trademarks are proactively protected.

The NCAA's tournament related income is significant, so it's understandable why.

That's why the organization has the "NCAA protection program."

While there are a lot of details, the essence of it is this:

  • Only NCAA partners may use tickets for promotional reasons, advertising, or similar.
  • Unless you've received explicit written permission from the NCAA, avoid using (either indirectly or directly) any NCAA trademarks.
  • In that same light, you may not commercially identify with a NCAA championship bracket.

The list goes on — but basically, don't affiliate yourself with the NCAA without their permission.

And while some may argue that this is excessive, especially considering that businesses who use their trademarks to promote their event may be beneficial, misuse can also be damaging.

Consider how if the trademark is use in a negative way, this could lead to bad associations with the brand, and actually damage the strength of the trademark.

How the NCAA protected their brand in the past:

The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) is highly protective of its trademark portfolio, including the "March Madness" trademark.

This protectiveness is exemplified in a legal case involving the NCAA and a Southern California automobile dealership.

The dealership used the term "Markdown Madness" in its advertising, which led the NCAA to issue a cease and desist letter followed by a federal complaint for trademark infringement.

The NCAA took this action because it believed the dealership's use of "Markdown Madness" could cause confusion with its "March Madness" trademark.

The case was eventually settled out of court​​.

Yes, March Madness is trademarked.

"March Madness" is indeed a trademarked term owned by the NCAA.

The organization's control over its usage underscores the term's significant value and branding power, reflecting the immense popularity of the NCAA basketball tournament itself.

While the NCAA maintains a tight grip on the commercial use of "March Madness," the NCAA tournament trademark remains a cultural staple every spring, representing the excitement and unpredictability of college basketball's premier event.


What tournaments are trademarked by the NCAA?

There are NCAA trademarks for several tournaments, including "March Madness" for basketball, "College World Series" for baseball, and "Frozen Four" for ice hockey.

How do I get permission to use NCAA logos?

To use NCAA logos, you must obtain a license from the NCAA's licensing program, typically involving a formal application process and adherence to specific usage guidelines.

Can you resell March Madness tickets?

Yes, you can resell March Madness tournament game tickets, but it must comply with local laws and regulations and preferably through authorized platforms to avoid counterfeit issues. Reselling tickets is known as "ticket scalping.

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