Fearing NFL penalty, church sacks Super Bowl party
North River Community Church was all set to hold a big Super Bowl gathering this Sunday, with the Patriots-Giants game on a giant video screen in the family-friendly atmosphere of the evangelical congregation’s worship center.
The Rev. Paul Atwater and his staff have canceled the event, however, to avoid getting flagged by the National Football League for copyright violations.
Atwater said he reluctantly made the decision after he checked the NFL’s policies and news reports of churches that were threatened with legal action for planning similar showings for the 2007 Super Bowl.
Because the North River event would be in a larger venue with a bigger screen than the 55-inch diagonal size the NFL allows, “we knew that doing this would not comply with NFL rules,” the pastor said.
“Even though we think this is a stupid law, we are going to abide by it.”
Instead, North River is encouraging church members to invite friends to their homes to watch the game. Members are also invited to wear Patriots jerseys and other team gear to the 9 and 11 a.m. Sunday services.
NFL communications vice president Brian McCarthy said he regretted hearing of the North River cancellation, but said the league is following decades-old federal copyright law.
“We have absolutely no objection to churches and others hosting Super Bowl parties,” he said. “We’ve never stopped a church from doing anything like this, as long as they aren’t trying to attract 400 or 500 people.”
While a free church event of that size might seem harmless, he said thousands of such non-commercial showings would significantly reduce network TV ratings, and thus cut the ad revenue on which Fox and the NFL are counting -- an estimated $275 million for Sunday’s game.
McCarthy -- who is already in Arizona for Sunday’s game -- said the NFL doesn’t single out churches. He said the league has occasionally warned hotels, theaters and other venues, including the New England Aquarium a few years ago.
At least one smaller church, Glad Tidings Assemblies of God in Quincy, Mass., is still planning a “football fellowship” for Sunday’s game, in a smaller room with a smaller screen.
NFL rules and copyright laws do allow churches and other non-commercial organizations to screen the Super Bowl, but the space can’t be more than 2,000 square feet and the TV screen can’t be larger than 55 inches, a size some families have in their homes. Entry fees are also prohibited. (North River wasn’t going to charge admission.)
Last year, a number of churches around Indianapolis and Cleveland canceled North River-style parties after being contacted by the NFL -- notably Fall Creek Baptist in Indianapolis, which displayed the official Super Bowl logo outside and planned to screen video faith testimonies by Colts coach Tom Dungy and some players. The NFL said both of those were copyright infractions.
“We’ve never gone into a church with rulers,” McCarthy said. “We simply explain the rules.”
Lane Lambert may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.