The NFL is known as a trademark monetizing machine, and this year’s “POT BOWL” is not without its share of trademark stories.   It was recently reported that running back Marshawn Lynch of the Seahawks makes six-figures (for charity) from licensing his BEAST MODE trademark.  Both the Broncos and the Seahawks have battled with Texas A&M over the use of the 12TH MAN mark (which, at least, the Seahawks licenses from the Aggies).  And, of course, the trademark attorneys at the NFL must be busy policing the SUPER BOWL mark in advance of The Big Game.

The Super Bowl has always been about brands for me, not just because the Vikings break my heart every year. But would the NFL be the sport with the largest revenue just on the game itself?  I mean, really, there are only 11 minutes of action in an average football game.  (Warning, you may lose your Sundays if your significant other reads that).  Is it the brands?  Or does it have its patented technologic advancements to thank?

Take, for instance, the 1ST & TEN® system.  You probably don’t know it by its trademark or its source (Sportvision), but you do know it by its yellow line when you watch your favorite team on Sunday.  If you are a sports fan, take a minute to peruse the Sportvision website; what the company has done to improve the viewing experience for sports is truly impressive.

Thanks to the 1ST & TEN® system, the fan has become the ref.  You argue convincingly with your buddy about whether Frank Gore got the first down or not.  You know when Jason Witten didn’t quite get to the yellow line to make that catch on 3rd and 7.  You wait nervously for Christian Ponder to make it back to the blue line of scrimmage.  You’re in the game.   In fact, after leaving the few NFL games I have attended, I said, “I’d rather watch it on TV.”

And that is something to say for a sporting event.  It’s likely not coincindental that the year the system was first used (1998), the TV rights contract more than doubled in annual revenue for the NFL.  One patented graphics system has literally changed a game of inches into a game of pixels.

A recent article by Steve McKee in Advertising Age about brand management had me pondering a “chicken/egg” type of IP debate. The article at one point asserts that well-managed brands are better than other property, like patents or stadiums that expire or depreciate over time.  Brands that are well-managed will never depreciate, according to the article.  So does innovation create a successful company, or does great branding?   I think the answer is that successful companies, like Apple, have both:  one will get you to one level, but you need both innovation and thoughtful branding to fully capitalize on marketplace opportunities.

Whether it’s the innovations in helmets and pads that have perhaps allowed the game to be harder-hitting, HDTV, or the 1st & TEN system, technology has made the NFL into a $10 Billion Brand as much as its branding has.