Church Planning A SuperBowl Party? Don't Tell The NFL

Federal copyright law allows sports bars to show NFL games on screens larger than 55″, but churches are not extended the same luxury, says the Washington Post:

“There is a part of me that says, ‘Gee, doesn’t the NFL have enough money already?'” said Steve Holley, Immanuel’s executive pastor. He pointed out that bars are still allowed to air the game on big-screens TV sets. “It just doesn’t make sense.”

The Super Bowl, the most secular of American holidays, has long been popular among churches. With parties, prayer and Christian DVDs replacing the occasionally racy halftime shows, churches use the event as a way to reach members, and potential new members, in a non-churchlike atmosphere.

“It takes people who are not coming frequently, or who have fallen away, and shows them that the church can still have some fun,” said the Rev. Thomas Omholt, senior pastor of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in the District. Omholt has hosted a Super Bowl party for young adults in his home for 20 years. “We can be a little less formal.”

The NFL said, however, that the copyright law on its games is long-standing and the language read at the end of each game is well known: “This telecast is copyrighted by the NFL for the private use of our audience. Any other use of this telecast or any pictures, descriptions, or accounts of the game without the NFL’s consent is prohibited.”

The league bans public exhibitions of its games on TV sets or screens larger than 55 inches because smaller sets limit the audience size. The section of federal copyright law giving the NFL protection over the content of its programming exempts sports bars, NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said.

The issue came to a head last year after the NFL sent a letter to Fall Creek Baptist Church in Indianapolis, warning the church not show the Super Bowl on a giant video screen. For years, the church had held a Super Bowl party in its auditorium, attracting about 400 people and showing the game on a big screen usually reserved for hymn lyrics.

The letter “was really a disturbing thing,” said Marlene Broome, a spokeswoman for the church.

Hmmm. Anyone know how to legally transform a church into a sports bar?

NFL Pulls Plug On Big-Screen Church Parties For Super Bowl [Washington Post]
(AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)


Edit Your Comment

  1. shadow735 says:

    NFL cry for more money!!!

  2. darkened says:

    I seriously hate the NFL corporation, probably more than I loath verizon and almost as much as the RIAA/MPAA/BSA

  3. AlteredBeast (blaming the OP one article at a time.) says:

    Why is a chuch spending their money on a tv larger than 55″ anyway??

  4. JustinAche says:

    The law in question actually says something to the effect that no screen over 55″ can be showing the game unless it’s majority use is to show sports…now, I know they are a big evil corporation (Hey, don’t wear that suit, it wasn’t made by a sponsor!), but, it’s the same type of law that prevents a church, a guy with a projector, underground casino’s, ect., from making any kind of profit or benefit of their broadcast…I’m with the NFL on this one

  5. arch05 says:

    @AlteredBeast: Ever heard of projectors? Some are cheaper than 55″ TV’s & give a bigger picture. Wow!

  6. MercuryPDX says:

    @AlteredBeast: Jesus came to him in a dream and said “Big Screen or Hell… your choice.”

  7. I really can’t understand how the NFL somehow “loses money” or is somehow hurt by a group of people watching it on a large screen TV.

    No really. Can someone tell me.

  8. Posthaus says:


    Some churches just have deep pockets.

  9. NotATool says:

    I don’t see how the NFL or anybody has the right to dictate how their show is displayed. Their show is on public airwaves which can be received by anyone. As long as you’re not charging admission to see the broadcast of the game, the NFL should have no say in how their game is displayed.

  10. Veeber says:

    @AlteredBeast: It’s not a TV, but a large projection screen. Depending on the size of the church you might need a very large screen to even see the pastor.

    Our church uses a large primary screen to display lyrics during worship, and then we use live camera shots to allow people in the back to see the pastor’s facial expressions. We’re not even a really big church (~3000 in attendance per service). The larger mega-churches in the south can easily get to 10,000.

  11. RenardRouge says:

    @AlteredBeast: I’m sure they aren’t using a television, rather they are probably using a projector in their sanctuary.

  12. zentec says:

    And this is an organization that complains about how cable TV is restricting the rights of its fans.

  13. RenardRouge says:

    @Chris Vee: That sounds like a pretty big church to me! :)

  14. DMDDallas says:

    @DemolitionMan: The church isn’t profiting, at least in theory.

  15. B says:

    Shouldn’t churches be doing, you know, church stuff on Sunday. Isn’t keeping the Sabbath holy one of the 10 commandments?

  16. opsomath says:

    Easy solution: the church should start serving booze. Then it satisfies the criterion!

  17. Tracy Ham and Eggs as played by Walter Mondale says:

    @NotATool: Thats the rub. They shut down these organizations so they can shut down groups that DO charge for super bowl parties (and its rampant). If they dont try to shut down the churches then they lose standing to shut down the local bowling alley or movie theatre that charges $10 a head to watch it on a big screen

  18. HRHKingFriday says:

    I love how they don’t take in to account that people are more likely to watch programs in a social setting, especially programing they might not typically watch. In other words, if I was alone on super bowl sunday, i might not watch it. I’m really just in it for the commradery and free food at my friend’s place.

    If I were an ad exec, I’d be pissed. They’re totally losing out on more viewers.

  19. AlteredBeast (blaming the OP one article at a time.) says:

    @arch05: Ha, good point. I actually have one I paid $450 for shooting a 100″+ image at home. I just pictured a church dropping thousands of dollars on a 65″ plasma.

  20. UpsetPanda says:

    My alma mater broadcasts the superbowl every year in the basketball stadium – four jumbo screens. Take that, NFL!

  21. RenardRouge says:

    @B: Yes, but the Sabbath Day is also the seventh day of the week, per the 10 commandments. Sunday, being the first day of the week, is just another day…

  22. shadow735 says:

    If I had a big hall and a huge screen I would let people come watch the game but they would have to bring food, lots of hot wings, beer, chips ect heh heh is that wrong? I wouldnt be making any money.

  23. morganlh85 says:

    So they’ll go home and watch it on their own TV set. What difference does it make to the NFL? If they watch the ads during the show they have gotten their money. In fact, they are probably MORE likely to watch the ads at the church because they can’t flip the channels on the giant screen and there’s no kitchen to run back and forth to.

  24. Joafu says:

    Greed is one of the seven deadly sins; too bad the NFL never learned.

  25. Anitra says:

    Eh. Churches have no business showing national sporting events anyway. I’d rather go to a smaller gathering of friends than a huge corporatized event (I did this once when I was in college, and it took all the fun out of the SuperBowl for me).

  26. Tank says:

    @Posthaus: yep, what good is a flock if ya can’t fleece them.

  27. laserjobs says:

    Why are curches even allowed to own assets in the first place? A true religion does not need money or assets.

  28. econobiker says:

    Beer and pretzels in place of wine and bread.


  29. axiomatic says:

    I have a 65″ HP DLP and am having over 30 friends to my house this weekend for a Superbowl party.

    COME AND GET ME! I dare you NFL.

    Oh and I’m recording the game too, and will remove the commercials. And skip the commercials as well!

  30. Pink Puppet says:

    @laserjobs: Because everyone knows that just because it is a religion, it can’t have administrative costs or want to do something special for a congregation.

    Rethink that one, you’re sounding a little crazy, my friend.

  31. samurailynn says:

    I have a projector at home, and the image is larger than 55″. Does this mean I’d be in trouble for inviting friends over to watch a game? If so, that’s ridiculous. But, I wouldn’t ever be watching a game at home, so I guess I’m not in trouble either way.

  32. arch05 says:

    @laserjobs: Let me guess, you’re Wiccan.

  33. alhypo says:

    While I always appreciate attacks on religious institutions, this seems especially anal on the part of the NFL.

    Furthermore, as much as I’ve always hated going to church, I am amazed that they found a way to make it even less fun to attend. At least the preachers, spewing their theological and political nonsense, actually manage to keep me awake from time to time. The Superbowl, which I’ve never once watched in entirety, can make no such claim.

  34. choinski says:

    If this was pay per view, they might have a point. But the broadcast is FREE. The Network and its advertisers pay huge amounts of money under the presumption the largest audience makes the advertising cost worthwhile. Why on earth would the NFL fight against audience size? Stoopid NFL.

  35. Adam Hyland says:

    @CreativeLinks: It’s opportunity cost. People who watch the NFL in large groups can’t count as individual viewers for advertising purposes. It’s why there are general prohibitions against rebroadcasting or boradcasting to groups.

    The reason there is a sport bar exemption is because the restaurateurs operate a fairly large lobby which helped that exist in the law.

  36. jtheletter says:

    IMHO the NFL needs to be sanctioned for making false statements to the public and misrepresenting the law. In particular the statement: “Any other use of this telecast or any pictures, descriptions, or accounts of the game without the NFL’s consent is prohibited.” is not legally correct as fair use still applies. If you take a few second clip, perhaps of a particular play, and use it as a basis for critique then it’s fair use and the NFL would lose in court. Of course they are banking on the same strategy as the RIAA – they’ll sue the hell out of you and use legal stalling tactics until you run out of money and don’t even make it to a judgment.
    This has got to stop. Copyright is a BALANCE, a deal between content producers and the public. Their protection only comes at the will of the people, it’s high time the balance was restored and copyright abusers severely punished for shorting the public.
    Just as manufacturers are banned from making false statements, copyright holders should be held to similar standards.

  37. PiningForTheFnords says:

    The First Baptist Bar & Grill should be in the clear.

  38. scoosdad says:

    @axiomatic: “Oh and I’m recording the game too, and will remove the commercials. And skip the commercials as well!”

    But.. but… you may be skipping the best part of the broadcast!

  39. NotATool says:

    Alternate View…think about this. Broadcast TV indiscriminatly sends their signal through *my* walls, into *my* home. Once their signals are in *my* home, I can do with them what I wish. Even if it consists of converting their signals into a viewable picture and projecting it onto my 100″ screen.

    If they don’t want me doing this, they need to be more careful about where they broadcast their signals.

  40. sarabadara says:

    Geez, lighten up. They’re just doing God’s will.

  41. macmizzle says:

    “Executive Pastor” Makes it sound like a business. Wait a minute…

  42. SuperJdynamite says:

    Doesn’t copyright govern copies of material (and the redistribution of those copies)? In this case the church isn’t “rebroadcasting” or making any other kind of copy.

    They’re also not charging for access to the material.

  43. GreatCaesarsGhost says:

    When this story ran last year, the church was charging admission. This article doesnt say one way or the other.

  44. latemodel says:

    At my church, I worship football so i am screwed. The Super Bowl is like Easter to those of us at Our Lady of Holy Scrimmage.

  45. davemei83 says:

    I’m also with the NFL with this one. Most times, Bars pay big subscription fees to have Cable or Satellite at their bar….upwards of thousands of dollars a year.

    I guess the church is considered a public place and if that’s the case, they must business subscription to Cable or DTV if they want to show to a large audience with a screen bigger than 55″.

  46. Adam Hyland says:

    @jtheletter: Point me to the statute saying that the NFL can’t grossly misinterpret their copyright on their broadcasts.

    there are laws (usually portions of the copyright legislation in question) that prevent them from sending actual legal threats, but there aren’t really any laws that limit their ability to be asshats about it.

    For example, it is perfectly within my rights to claim that no one is allowed to copy, paste, or even LOOK upon this post without my permission, despite the fact that it is blatantly untrue.

  47. mammalpants says:

    luckily, my church is applebees!

    did i mention that i worship the god of diarrhea?

  48. Parting says:

    Hilarious. How will NFL will know? And even if they’ll know, will they sue a CHURCH? Ha! Bad PR, no, that would be horrible PR.

    On the other hand, people who will attend church already HAVE NFL at HOME. And those who don’t, can watch the game with their neighbors.

    So it’s either, they watch it by themselves on ”small” screen, or together on a big screen.

    NFL’s argument won’t hold in a court of law. No one signed an agreement with NFL. Most people never even heard about this dumb rule.

  49. chstwnd says:

    IMHO, the Superbowl parties have been and will continue to go on, televised on big screen TVs (larger than 55″) that don’t have a primary purpose in displaying sports, and to an audience that definitely violates the “private use” verbage. The only thing the NFL is affecting is a church’s right to assemble. And I have a problem with this in general.

    So, if someone is stating (to a church) that they basically cannot meet together (for virtually arbitrary reasons stipulated outside of the church), isn’t that a violation of first amendment rights on several counts?

  50. XTC46 says:

    @Posthaus: MOST churches have deep pockets. Most major religions have BILLIONS in assets.

  51. ceejeemcbeegee is not here says:

    This is like when Disney issued a “cease and desist” order to a Kindergarten teacher for showing “The Little Mermaid” video to her class.

  52. SacraBos says:

    @axiomatic: Fool! I’m going to record the broadcast, and skip the game so I can watch the comermcials! Take that NFL!

  53. bluewyvern says:

    @choinski: That’s my question, too. I don’t understand why the NFL is protective about where and how their free broadcast is viewed — is it not supported by advertisers who might pay more for a larger audience without all these viewing restrictions?

    Am I missing something?

  54. ninabi says:

    And Jesus wept.

    Because he couldn’t watch.

  55. elislider says:

    uh oh, the NFL better sue my school too. last year we brought out the projector and a bunch of ppl in my dorm watched the superbowl on about an 80″ screen. sily us thinking we could watch a television broadcast however we wanted…

  56. leftystrat says:

    …further proving we are a country of morons.
    Anybody with even a small bit of sense would tell the NFL to go pound grass. Instead we line up to purchase NFL-approved clothing (at unbelievable prices), NFL tickets (at even more inflated prices, in stadiums YOUR TAX DOLLARS helped build), and discuss this game (and, heaven forbid, the commercials) as if it were actual life and death.

    What happened to the good old days when radio stations could say SUPER BOWL and all we had to talk about was the latest sign that Britney is on the fast track to permanent psychosis?

    We’re having our usual super bowl party too: great food and Monty Python movies. If this is a problem, I want John Cleese to show up and tell me himself.

    Bread and circuses.

  57. synergy says:

    So… how does a sport bar get permission to show it?? And why? Because they sell Budweiser which is probably a major endorser of the Super Bowl?? I don’t get it. Oh well. Don’t care. I’ll be able to go out and not have to wait in lines on Sunday! Best part of Super Bowl Sunday. :)

  58. Thinktwice says:

    The church should counter sue the NFL. Doesn’t the NFL use Church or God in their games on Sunday? They should get a royalty every time the “Hail Mary Pass” is used. Or team prayers or any time a player makes a religious reference they need to add to the collection plate.

  59. BeFrugalNotCheap says:

    What if it was a church of scientology event and the NFL tried to sue? That would be funny. Scientology lawyer to NFL lawyer: “What are your crimes?”. The NFL lawyer tackles the Scientology lawyer. A fight breaks out. More lawsuits.

  60. mike says:

    @B: Without going into a big song and dance about your comment, the short answer is that most churches understand how important the big game is for some folks. So they will accommodate. Besides, pastors want to watch the game too.

  61. mike says:

    @synergy: I think that’s exactly it…people are coming in droves to drink beer. That’s how they are making their money.

    I bet if the church offered piss-water Budweiser (Seriously, how can any one drink it?), Tostito chips, Pepsi products, it would be exempt.

  62. descend says:


    Rick Warren needs that 11-bedroom house.

  63. banmojo says:

    Laws are laws, no matter how restrictive and capricious. A church, of all businesses, should try to uphold the law of the land. And YES, churches are BIG business. BIG!

  64. crypticgeek says:

    On one hand you have copyright. It’s important for them to be able to retain rights to their work.

    However, on the other hand they are broadcasting the game over OUR public airwaves and making millions by selling advertising during the game.

    So yeah, screw ’em. Show the game on as large a screen as you want.

  65. I am amazed at how this discussion became (for some people) a “churches shouldn’t need money or resources that make them relevant to today” issue.

    People expect people who go to church to be backward and awkward people who are clueless about what is going on in the world, but as soon as we start doing things that just might be “normal” for people we’re told that we should be doing “you know, church things on Sunday.”

    While I’m not a fan of churches using it as an opportunity to preach at a captive audience it is an opportunity to provide a place for people who don’t want to go to a crowded sports bar but want to watch it in a group with others – there are a lot of awkward and lonely people in every city that would just LOVE a place to watch the game in a group.

    All that being said, I appreciate that the church I attend here in DC is showing the game and has jumped through the hoops to do it legally because we want to serve the community.

    Oh, and Sunday isn’t the sabbath anyhow…

  66. GOKOR says:

    @DMDDallas: With new members who, in turn, pay “penance” to the church they are making a profit. It’s not directly related to this, and the NFL really shouldn’t care, because they already got paid for the money advertisers spent on their spots and whatnot, but it’s the legal confines that they have put in place and it runs before every game, so you have to abide by them.

    In-home use I’m sure they don’t care if you have a HUGE TV, because they wouldn’t have a way to know other than one is a residence and one is a church/business. If you’re a business, and someone finds out you’re working outside the legal parameters, then they have the right to go after you. I do know of a couple sports bars in my area that have screens that are nearly the size of movie screens, they would likely get in a lot of trouble if Johnny Law were to come after them for this.

  67. GOKOR says:

    @jaysonwhelpley: It’s usually arrogant atheists who scoff people who have any religion. Mostly because they have no sense why anyone could possibly have a personal belief or faith different than what they find to be factual.

    They find it increasingly difficult to just let others live their own life without putting them down.

  68. vladthepaler says:

    i thought Christmas was the most secular holiday. People pray for their team to win the superbowl.

  69. fett387 says:

    Shhh! Our church had a superbowl party. We even called it a superbowl party. The screen was bigger than 55″. There were about 300 people there. Jesus was there too.

  70. Nemesis_Enforcer says:

    Hmm church and fun- does not compute. I thought church was meant to be a torturous experiance where you wish you would get smited. You know just to have something to do other than listen to the mindless drivel the preacher spews….

  71. Consumerist Moderator - ACAMBRAS says:


    Who was Jesus rooting for? Did he fall asleep during the halftime show? And did he play some role getting that e*trade baby to talk? And making the lizards dance?

    So many questions.

  72. fett387 says:

    @Consumerist Moderator – ACAMBRAS: He did fall asleep! But we woke him up for the last five or ten minutes of the game. So I guess there are more praying giants than praying patriots.