HBO's new show "Ballers" isn't the first to depict professional football, nor is it the first television program to show aspects of the game the NFL would like to overlook. But, as Sunday night's premiere demonstrated, "Ballers" is the first fictional TV show in recent history to use actual NFL logos.
With rare exceptions (like the NFL-approved Draft Day), movies and TV shows have shied away from using actual team logos, presumably for trademark reasons.
But "Ballers," which stars Dwayne Johnson as an NFL player-turned-agent, is different. The show clearly used the logos of the Miami Dolphins and Buffalo Bills during a scene in the first episode, and it appears this will continue throughout the first season.
Entertainment lawyer Michael C. Donaldson told Jason Guerrasio of Business Insider that HBO has no need to get the NFL's permission for the use of its team logos. As long as the use of the logos doesn't tarnish or disparage the league, Donaldson said, there's no problem.
“[The NFL] brow beat a lot of people into paying fees that don’t have to be paid,” Donaldson told Business Insider. “They extract those fees from filmmakers who are either nervous or not completely aware of their rights under the law.”
People who have seen the trailer for "Ballers" might not realize there are logos in the show, as the helmets and uniforms of players have been scrubbed of any evidence. This may have been a way for HBO to avoid any controversy before the airing of the first episode.
And unfortunately for the NFL, because its players have been involved in various incidents that tarnish the league's image, the show can portray less-than-ideal behavior and get away with it.
“Players have engaged in domestic violence and then convicted of that, and NFL players have committed murder," Chris Perez, Donaldson's partner at the law firm, told Business Insider. "So you can create a show that uses NFL logos and create a fiction situation where all of those things happen.”
It's fair to wonder how this might affect HBO's relationship with the NFL, which grants the network special access for the popular training camp series "Hard Knocks." While the NFL hasn't commented on the show, HBO had this to say:
"HBO is always mindful of other intellectual property owners, but in this context there is no legal requirement to obtain their consent.”
On the other hand, the NFL could benefit from "Ballers" if the show turns out to be successful.
"@cmartinez521: any idea why the Dolphins are ok with the show using their logo, colors etc?"» cause they could be associated with a hit.
— Omar Kelly (@OmarKelly) June 22, 2015
The program has lots of NFL connections, including cameos by Victor Cruz and Clay Matthews. Former running back Rashard Mendehall is a writer on the show.