NFL Cracking Down on Churches Showing the Super Bowl on the Big Screen

Posted on: 01/19/08 9:35 AM | by Jonathan McKee

Every year our ministry provides fun resources for for all the churches and youth groups that have Super Bowl parties. Last year, a wrench was thrown in the works… the NFL cracked down on churches showing the game on the big screen.


Yep… no joke. This actually doesn’t surprise me. Any Monday Night Football fan remembers that little disclaimer they make about the game not being for public showing, yada, yada, yada. Well, some churches have these giant Super Bowl parties and charge admission.

Well, the NFL is cracking down on these large gatherings watching the game on the big screen.

Here are the two issues: collecting money, and screen size.

The Daily Progress out of Charlottesville, VA has an article talking about this situation. This article talks about the Indianapolis church that was told they couldn’t show the game on the big screen. A Charlottesville lawyer, John W. Whitehead, wants to fight this, saying that “he’d sue if he could only find a church willing to sign on as a client.”  (Really? A lawyer wants to sue?)

The article goes into detail:

At issue is a law and corresponding league rule that says the Super Bowl can’t be shown to gatherings on a screen larger than 55 inches.

Whitehead, who has made a career in part by defending religious groups on free speech issues, says that rule keeps most churches from being able to host Super Bowl parties and show the game.

“It’s absurd to say that anyone in a larger crowd can watch it on a 55-inch screen,” he said. “They can’t.”

The league’s policy is modeled after the federal Copyright Act, and does not unfairly target churches, according to an NFL spokesman.

“Our position on this is that we have absolutely no objection to churches and others hosting Super Bowl viewing parties as long as they don’t charge admission and they show the game on a television of the type that is commonly used at home,” said NFL spokesman Greg Aiello.

Is a lawsuit the answer?

Here’s my two cents: Fair or not, it’s a law. We need to obey it.

But don’t worry… we CAN still have superbowl parties, IN HOMES. That’s right. Personally, that’s more fun anyway. It’s more intimate. For large churches or youth groups, what a great way to connect people with others in their area. Have “area Super Bowl parties.”

And as for the money? Don’t charge admission, just make it a “bring your own snack” party. Admission is a bag of Doritos or a 2 Liter of Pepsi.

A few examples of what this can look like:

I was one of the leaders of a young couple’s ministry at my church a few years ago. We used to have a Super Bowl party at one of the leader’s house and invite the whole young couple’s class. We had about 30 people show up. It was a big house with a big TV and a big freaking couch!!! It was a lot of fun.

When I was in high school (WAAAAAAAAAY back in the day), my youth group used to always have a Super Bowl party at one of the youth leaders’ houses. This was always great fun. Our youth group was a decent size, about 70 kids weekly. This youth leader built bleachers in his house… (it was awesome) in two different rooms. All the fans for one team went in one room, all the fans of the other went in the other room (he wasn’t trying to cause divisions, the rooms were only so big… we needed multiple rooms to fit all the kids). I’ll always remember that Super Bowl.

Oh… and screen size? Do you remember what TV’s used to be in the 80’s? (okay… I just dated myself. I was in high school in the 80’s. Yes… pegged pants, an Izod with the collar up, a white Miami Vice jacket… the whole bit!) A BIG TV in the 80’s was 27 inches, unless you were one of the few people who had those funky projection BIG SCREENS with the three lights shining on it (and you couldn’t even see the picture unless you weren’t dead center). Yes… that memorable Super Bowl I saw on the bleachers in a living room in high school was on a 25″ TV.

So I have no problem with 55 inches.

So… this year our ministry will be providing its annual Super Bowl activity ideas, including a fun little Super Bowl quiz- a competition predicting the results of the game. (here’s last year’s quiz) People take the quiz before the game starts answering who they think will catch the most passes, which team will score first, who will get the most field goals, etc. After the game, you tally up the results and see who did the best on the “quiz.”

Great fun.

So throw your Super Bowl parties this year. Just 1. don’t charge  2. and “keep it on a on a television of the type that is commonly used at home,” to quote that NFL spokesman word for word.

So who’s gonna win?

12 Replies to “NFL Cracking Down on Churches Showing the Super Bowl on the Big Screen”

  1. I know some churches are starting with a 5 to 10 minute delay on their DVR so they can skip past any commercials that they don’t feel are appropriate. I wonder if that will also become a legal issue with these super-bowl parties.

    Don’t forget what happened to cleanflix. Hmmm.

  2. We were a “victim” of this last year. I planned a huge event with a giant screen (definitely bigger than 55 inches), inflatable games, all kinds of food, yada yada yada. The newspaper article was given to me on Saturday…yeah the day before the event!! I was mad, frustrated and blaming the person who gave me the article, the NFL and even the Holy Spirit for convicting me.

    Then I realized it was my fault. I didn’t do my homework, I didn’t have all the facts. So we made some adjustments and moved the projector so the image was under 55 inches and still had a good night.

    Because I agree with Jonathan…”Fair or not, it’s a law. We need to obey it.” Our Super Bowl Party will look a lot different this year.

  3. I am the Associate Pastor of Students and Families at Fall Creek Baptist Church in Indianapolis. Yep, that church. The one who received a Fed Ex package from NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s office the week of last year’s Super Bowl informing us of their intention to stop our planned event. On a side note, I had done this at my previous church for over 10 years and never had any type of contact. We were shocked. But in all of the following communication with Commissioner Goodell’s office and NFL attorneys, the NFL made it clear that they would not budge on the law in any way. At one point when I pointed out to one of the NFL’s attorneys that the current law meant families and students too young to go to sports bars had nowhere to gather and watch the game and asked what our options were, she replied with a very curt “They(families/teens/students) just need to watch it at home.”
    Needless to say, we were faced with a decision and after having our own attorneys review everything, our Pastor led us to obey the law. He believed the only way they would be prohibiting us from sharing the Gospel during the game was if we purposely disobeyed a clear law(even though it had not been enforced until the current Commissioner’s term) or just canceled everything. So, we moved everything to home parties with big-screens(no prohibitions there), split our groups by ABF/Sunday School classes, and actually had an incredibly successful night anyway. The amazing thing is even the home church of the coach of the winning Super Bowl team, Tony Dungy, chose to cancel. This year, the company that produces the halftime video of an NFL player sharing his personal testimony has changed all of their promotional material to use the phrase “Halftime Home Packs” and specifically encourage churches to meet at homes in small groups, if that helps give you an idea of how most are responding.

  4. Correct me if I’m wrong, but my understanding is as long as you are in a private home and aren’t charging any money, it doesn’t matter how big the screen is. The screen size only becomes an issue in a public setting.

  5. Yes Darrin… you are correct. Scott Stayton from that Indianapolis church (yes… THE church) emailed me the following:

    Also, our attorneys and a number of outside attorneys who offered us legal advice tell us that the law does not prohibit big-screens in homes. Our legal understanding is that the 55-inch screen law and the “no more than 4 tv’s per building” law does not apply to in-home viewing. Most homes wouldn’t have more than 4 anyway, but that is our understanding. Even though there are some homes in our area that could rival an arena viewing of the game!

  6. May a church pay a fee to the NFL and show the game on a larger than 55″ screen? If so, does anyone know about how much it would be?

  7. I cancelled our “annual” youth group Super Bowl party last year when I found out about it. The kids in my youth group just thought I was making things up when I said it was a violation of copyright laws. Well, this year they were anxious to have it again and didn’t believe me when I said it was against the law. Finally, I Googled the articles and showed them. Their first response was “so, they are never going to know”. My response was, “no, probably not, but God does!” After youth group was over two teens came and apologized to me for doubting me and appreciated that I would stand for my convictions even when it seems like such a silly thing! Men and women in ministry…these are great teaching moments in the development of our kids integrity! Press on to be a living example of Christ so that they can learn to be men and women of integrity as well!

  8. I think sometimes we let the moment affect our ability to think rationally about something. Seriously, would you ever intentionally break the law to do any other type of outreach? Our church will be splitting up into small groups also, until the NFL decides to change it’s mind on this ridiculous policy (but then they still impose tv blackouts, a policy that no other league has used in 20 years.)


  9. Ha! 55 inch TVs…splitting up into small groups…..I guess with our 20 member group that meets in my house, we have nothing to worry about! LOL But you’re right – there is something to be said about getting together at somebody’s house. There are people who will not step foot into a church, but WILL come to somebody’s house for a superbowl party….and perhaps once they see that christians aren’t really made out of plastic (most of us anyways), then perhaps they will *gasp!* come to church one of these Sundays….

  10. I was researching on the internet and it seemed to say that the nfl backed down from screen size, as long as it was a unit commonly used in homes. Many homes have LCD projectors today, I knows ours is a cheep one from staples (WHICH ARE COMMONLY USED IN HOMES FOR HOME THEATRES). It seems to me as long as it is not a professional projector (like megachurches have) and you don’t charge admission it shouldn’t be a problem. Let me know if I am wrong. I am trying to abide by the rules, but like many here I just found out!

  11. The NFL has backed down on the 55 inch requirement. That is not a law, but rather is based on a copyright law stating you can’t use devices not commonly used in homes. I own a projector at home. My screen is 105 inches. I know plenty of people who use a projector at home. Bars and sport restaurants show the game on larger than 55 inch screens.

    Check out the link. It’s a lot of nitty gritty, but as long as you are showing the game on a screen and using a receiver that is commonly used in a home, the NFL cannot stop you.

  12. Joshua’s article linked above is a good one to read. Yes… the bottom line is not charging for the game and showing it on a screen that is “commonly used in a home.” Personally, I don’t think that means a 105″ projection screen just because one person happens to have that in their home. I think what it means is, “A SCREEN THAT IS COMMONLY USED IN A HOME!” I think it would be good for churches to stick with that to avoid the appearance of not adhering to the law. But… I guess people are going to do whatever helps them sleep that night.

Comments are closed.