Churches across the U.S. planning Super Bowl parties Sunday, as the Indianapolis Colts and the Chicago Bears meet in the 41st edition of the classic first won by the Green Bay Packers, have been given sweeping permission by the NFL to go ahead – just as long as no admission fees are charged.
A dispute arose several days ago in the Midwest when the NFL sent a letter to one church based on its website advertisement for a “Super Bowl Party.” That letter to Fall Creek Baptist Church in Indianapolis said the church couldn’t use the words “Super Bowl,” it couldn’t charge admission, it couldn’t use its projection screen for the game, and a number of other things.
Those limits, coupled with the fact no church felt willing to take on a financial behemoth like the National Football League in court, sparked a series of cancellations of those parties.
“We regret to inform you that we have had to cancel our bash to view the Colts game this Sunday in a family friendly environment due to the fact that the NFL believes we would be in violation of the Copyright Act, because we had planned to show the game on a screen bigger than a 55 inch diagonal,” said a website statement from Pastor John D. Newland of Fall Creek Baptist.
However, a written statement given to WND by the NFL late today made no mention of many of those restrictions. It was attributed only to “an NFL spokesman.”
“The National Football League has absolutely no objection to churches and others hosting Super Bowl viewing parties as long as they do not charge admission and show the game on a television of the type commonly used at home.
“We are simply following copyright law and have done so with regard to any type of commercial establishment including hotels, theatres, museums, schools, arenas and others.
“This is nothing new. It is a matter of longstanding policy and the law.
“We have no rules that relate to viewing at home on any type of television.”
NFL officials, after the statement was released, could not be reached by WND for any elaboration.
Earlier, they forwarded to WND their “Policy On The Public Performance Of Game Broadcasts,” which expressed the league’s “exclusive” ownership of the games and broadcasts.
The policy also describes the “homestyle exemption,” which allows that in certain circumstances “conduct that otherwise violates the public performance right is deemed noninfringing. Specifically, 17 U.S.C. Paragraph 110(5)(A) provides that performance of a televised game will be excused if such performance is ‘on a single receiving apparatus of a kind commonly used in private homes, unless (1) a direct charge is made to see or hear the transmission; or (2) the transmission thus received is further transmitted to the public.’”
The NFL policy notes that the league doesn’t object to having games played on a single television receiver, “set up in a room or bar, provided payment is not a condition of entry.”
Elaborate performances, such as those using a movie theater with multiple, oversized television monitors and entry fees would, however, cause objections.
Pastor Mark Miller, of Indian Creek Christian Church in Indianapolis, said his church’s party was cancelled, but when he heard from WND the NFL was committed to being flexible, said it would depend on whether the youth ministry team could re-group – again – that fast.
He said one of the issues raised by the NFL earlier, but not even addressed in the policy or the later statement, was a coordination of any other message with the game.
“We were told that any kind of message couldn’t be used in conjunction with the game,” he told WND. Given the fact that both of the coaches in this weekend’s extravaganza have made statements of personal Christian faith, he said, that was a concern.
According to reports in the Indianapolis area, a number of churches including Indian Creek, Fall Creek Baptist, Cornerstone Ministry Center in Seymour, Noblesville’s Green Valley Church of Christ and many others had abruptly dropped plans for their Sunday afternoon and evening get-togethers because of the threats from the NFL. Soon word was coming in from other states, too, officials said.
“Thursday’s Indianapolis Star [report] that the NFL told Fall Creek Baptist Church that its plans for a big-screen showing of the game were improper [launched the wave of cancellations],” the reports said.
But with the latest statements from the NFL, and the fact that big-screen televisions, and even projection units, routinely are found in homes today, the door seemed to re-open. For example, the NFL earlier listed a screen size of 55 inches wide as the limit, but the newest statement had no reference to a specific size, only restricting the “receivers’ to what can be found in homes.
The wave of cancellations was followed quickly with indignant reactions from NFL fans. Of the hundreds who commented to the Star, and NFL spokesman Greg Aiello’s earlier hard line on the dispute, more than 90 percent were taking the NFL to task as the No Fun League or worse.
“Someone needs to put the NFL in its place! How can we stop the crime wave when we can’t give people an alternative life style?” wrote GA-s Mom from Shelbyville. “I am outraged that the NFL feels that [they] have the power to tell a church what to do. I am boycotting not only the game but the sponsers. This is wrong,” added Lulu, from Indianapolis.
“Everyone who feels this way should send the message, via e-mail – today – to the NFL, the network, and the sponsors of the Super Bowl,” suggested “freefalling.” “For Real” considered the situation: “Let’s see … the NFL and its big powerful bullies say it is ok to go to a bar, get ridiculously drunk and stupid, probably drive home … but you cannot go to a ‘church’ with some snackies and non-alcoholic beverages to watch their game … mmm no wonder I do not support the Colts … or any other team.”
Another fan, who called himself “Jesus Slapped in the Face,” said, “I am appalled at the NFL’s sense of right and wrong. They should be ashamed of banning CHURCHES, who are giving pro-active ‘Super Bowl’ parties.”
The earlier limits had included no admission fees, even for snacks, only one television 55 inches or smaller, no use of the “Super Bowl” words, nothing that would “promote a message” in connection with the game.
Indianapolis Star reports initially said the NFL had noticed Fall Creek’s “Super Bowl Bash” promotion on the church website, and sent Newland an overnight letter demanding its cancellation.
Among its objections was an extra video that was scheduled that highlights 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 an 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.”
However, the latest statement from the NFL made no mention of any such objections.
Parties connected to Super Bowls probably have been going on as long as the Super Bowl itself. Churches probably weren’t far behind in holding such events, and Baptist Press has carried stories on their impact.
The testimony of Barrett Upchurch is an example. The starting centerfielder for Grapevine, Texas, High School’s junior varsity baseball team reports coming to a knowledge of Christ at a Super Bowl party.
“I started crying and just felt I was a new person and got lifted on the inside,” he said of the earlier gathering at First Baptist in Colleyville, Texas.
Student pastor Keith Harmon said the focus of the event is a “party.”
“But our whole purpose is at halftime, to see them come into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. If you can get lost students there and they hear the Gospel, they will accept Christ,” he said.
Parents appreciate it, because it’s a safe environment for kids to see the game.
The Assemblies of God, a large Pentecostal denomination, even published a special Super Bowl edition of “Today’s Pentecostal Evangelical,” its monthly publication with a circulation of 200,000. It features biographies and testimonies from Christian players, and Managing Editor Kirk Noonan said 20,000 extra copies were in print for church members to give to neighbors and friends.
Newland had explained to his church community why the cancellation was announced.
“While we have argued that we only intend to provide a family oriented environment that will make no profit from the showing, the NFL claims that our event cannot proceed by law. Therefore, we have no choice but to challenge this in court or cancel the event. We choose to cancel the event. We deeply regret that we have been prohibited by the NFL from providing a family friendly environment for celebrating the Colts great season,” he wrote on the church website.
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