NFL Smacks Down Brewery: They Still Get Great Publicity

By on Monday, December 9, 2019

When the owners of Hysteria Brewing announced that they were planning to make a tribute beer to their favorite Baltimore Ravens football player and posted a picture of the beer label and packaging showing a likeness of his jersey, it only took 2 days for the National Football League to send a cease and desist letter warning the brewery that it was not allowed to use the images.

The planned label and packaging Hysteria Brewing announced on December 3, 2019. 

The Baltimore Business Journal, CBS Baltimore and WBAL had intially covered the brewery’s announced plans to preemptively name quarterback Lamar Jackson #MVP (most valuable player) and issue a tribute beer. This positive news coverage is surely how the Columbia, Maryland brewery got on the radar of the NFL, which like all big corporate brands has a small army of people like me monitoring their news coverage on a daily basis.

Instead of crying uncle, Hysteria Brewing has ridden the tidal wave of litigation threat, all the way to public relations gold. Several news stories have run as a result of the NFL’s cease and desist letter, and millions of people have found out about the scrappy little brewery through the publicity. I heard multiple stories about this on WTOP yesterday, and here’s some more examples:

A Columbia brewery is putting Lamar Jackson’s likeness on a beer. Is it legal? Baltimore Sun, 12/08/2019

NFL Sends Hysteria Brewing Company Letter Saying Lamar Jackson-Themed Beer Is ‘Unauthorized Use Of NFL Marks’ CBS Baltimore, 12/07/2019

Ty Kreis, Hysteria Brewing Company’s director of sales and marketing, struck a contrite tone in his comments published by Fox Business saying, “We are currently working on a new version of the label to remove any potential conflicts by removing any and all NFL markings requested by the NFL. We honestly thought the label was vague enough, but have no problem working on it to make sure we adhere to the requests and remarks from the NFL.”

The cease and desist letter Hysteria Brewing posted to their Facebook page.

Legitimately, the NFL has a point. As a copyright and trademark holder, if they don’t respond severely and immediately to potential infringements on their marks, they risk their trademark being put in jeopardy. Reality is – anything involving an NFL team can get into licensing issues and should be carefully scoped out before proceeding. My spouse and business partner is a graphic designer, and he asks people constantly if they have permission to use images and artwork that they provide. I do too. Because we know how severe the penalties can be for infringement or mis-use.

Now one could argue that Hysteria Brewing did this as a stunt, knowing the NFL sledge hammer would smack down once a little buzz got out about their planned brew. But given how many often we talk with clients about images, trademarks and copyrights, and how frequently people appear to be completely unaware of such concerns, I wouldn’t be surprised if Hysteria Brewing was at least taken aback by how quickly the NFL responded.

Lessons to learn here:

  • Failure does not mean total ruin. The brewery got additional publicity out of this and still got to say how much they love their favorite player.
  • When you are in the thick of it, show who you really are and keep talking. There are times companies get letters like this and they clam up, deferring to lawyers to respond to other lawyers. Hysteria Brewing kept talking, and it worked, because they said the right things. The brewery and its brand came through in these stories and through their social media posts.
  • Address problems quickly. Hysteria Brewing made public comments right away saying they would address the NFL’s concerns.
  • Hire good creative services vendors to advise you on packaging and design. Before you invest money in having product packaging professionally designed, talk with the graphic designer /and listen if they tell you certain images will be problematic.

While they do have to change the label and packaging plans, Hysteria Brewing has recruited new fans who want to root for the underdog. Hopefully, it translates into some great sales for them and more customers.

Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, an independent PR practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media engagement, writing services, and creative design for publications and websites (contact to discuss your projectreview our portfoliosign up for our e-newsletter). She blogs about media relations, social media, public relations, and work-family balance. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven


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