By Pete Williams
Chipotle Mexican Grill is having some fun with the NFL’s aggressive protection of its Super Bowl trademark, promoting a burrito party pack for the “Super Big Internationally Televised Professional Football Bowl Game.”
There it is, the words “Super” and “Bowl” in a promotion around the NFL’s signature event. The Shield goes after anyone who uses “Super Bowl” in advertising, thus the use of “Big Game” and other generic language.
Will the league sue Chipotle or at least send a cease-and-desist letter?
Probably not. The NFL knows that if it targets Chipotle, a wildly-popular and successful national chain based in Tebowville (Denver), it will generate a huge amount of publicity, which only would benefit Chipotle.
Plus, it’s not like Chipotle is some local sports bar owner. It’s an $11 billion company that can fight back.
Not that Chipotle needs the publicity. Since its founding in 1993, Chipotle has spent precious little on marketing and advertising, relying on word of mouth. Its stock is up eightfold since November of 2008 and this morning set another all-time high. It has more than 1,200 stores, including several in Europe, and its new Asian-themed restaurant, Shophouse Southeast Asian Kitchen, has met with rave reviews since opening last year in the nation’s capital. Endurance athletes love Chipotle, which has sponsored a Tour de France team.
The NFL has every right to protect its trademark. The irony, of course, is that “Super” Bowl is a corny term, something Greg Brady might have coined while playing touch football with Peter and Bobby on the family’s backyard AstroTurf.
Pete Rozelle knew this. According to “America’s Game,” the definitive NFL history written by Michael MacCambridge, the former NFL commissioner hated the term “Super Bowl.” The title was invented in 1966 by LaMar Hunt, the Kansas City Chiefs owner, after watching his children play with a Super Ball, a hot novelty item of that time.
Rozelle, according to MacCambridge’s book, was a stickler for grammar and thought the word super, like “neat” or “gee-whiz” was a word that lacked sophistication. But before the league could come up with another title for its championship, headline writers, commentators and even players started using “Super Bowl.”
The other irony of Chipotle latching onto the Super Bowl is that it’s a rare instance where the NFL is associated with healthy food. There’s not one NFL sponsor that could be considered healthy food or drink. (Even Gatorade isn’t something that should be consumed by anyone other than hardcore athletes.) It’s difficult if not impossible to find a healthy food option at an NFL venue outside of perhaps the luxury boxes and maybe the club levels. When NFL teams give out freebie T-shirts at games, they distribute a single size, the one that reflects the bodies of most of their customers.
The NFL promotes sedentary, sit-on-the-couch behavior perhaps more than any American business. NFL programming dominates the list of television’s highest-rated shows. It’s not a stretch to say that the NFL is partially responsible for the obesity epidemic.
Heck, the NFL is the only major sports league featuring a significant percentage of obese participants. Broadcasters can talk all day about the athleticism of 340-pound linemen, but there are countless stories of ex-NFL players who struggle with their health because they can’t lose the weight.
Then there’s Chipotle, which features meat and dairy products from animals raised without hormones and antibiotics, along with produce that’s locally sourced and organic wherever possible. Company founder Steve Ells has challenged the food industry to get away from factory farming and processed garbage. The success of Chipotle indicates that there’s a demand for it.
Ells is a fan of the late Steve Jobs, who upended the computer, music, and phone industries. Ells might have a bigger impact if he can achieve his goal of changing the way America eats. Already fast food chains are scrambling to change. So too are fern bar, sit-down restaurants who have seen Chipotle’s fast-casual, all-natural concept erode their business.
As for the NFL, it should embrace Chipotle’s Super Bowl promotion.
Since the lawyers are quiet, we’re guessing The Shield already has.