The Yahoo! / NBA.com Partnership — Intellectual Property Problems are no Longer Just a “Fantasy”

Last Tuesday, I blogged both here and at Sports Law Blog about what seemed to be a partnership between Yahoo! and NBA.com to offer play-for-cash fantasy basketball contests.   In both posts, I noted:

The NBA.com / Yahoo! leagues operate at two price points.  $100 entry fee leagues pay out a first-place prize of $600.  Meanwhile, $20 entry fee leagues pay out a first place prize of $120.”

The day after these posts went live, a representative of the NBA explained to the Editor & Chief of Sports Law Blog that the NBA “is not associated with Yahoo! Sports pro leagues (which are fee-based)”  and that the “NBA’s involvement with Yahoo! Sports is limited to free fantasy sports.

This explanation, at first, seemed helpful to understanding the scope of the NBA.com/Yahoo! partnership.  However, upon closer review, there might be more to this story.  Yahoo! has since continued to use the NBA.com trademark in conjunction with its play-for-cash fantasy basketball game.  Does the NBA now believe Yahoo!, in doing so, is infringing on its intellectual property rights?

Below is a screen shot of the Yahoo! Fantasy Basketball interface (taken on 11/21).  If you look closely, you will notice that the NBA.com logo appears along with the Yahoo! Sports logo at the top left.  Underneath and slightly to the right of the NBA.com logo is a link to enter Yahoo!’s play-for-cash fantasy basketball league (the button marked $600). Then, immediately to the right of the “Join a Pro League” button are links to Yahoo!’s free fantasy basketball games (both private and public).

Even if NBA.com is not intending to sponsor Yahoo!’s paid games, my hunch is that some consumers would reasonably believe that the NBA is sponsoring all of Yahoo!’s fantasy basketball games.  Moreover, the fact that the NBA.com logo appears closest on the screen to the play-for-cash version of Yahoo! fantasy basketball may imply that the NBA is sponsoring that version of fantasy basketball, and not just the free game.

Given the great lengths that a representative of the NBA has gone to inform Sports Law Blog that it is not endorsing Yahoo!’s money leagues, one would expect the NBA to go through even greater efforts to have the NBA.com logo removed from any Yahoo! webpage associated with play-for-cash leagues.  Yet, as of this morning (11/27, 9:30 A.M.) — a full seven days after my original post — the NBA.com logo continues to appear visibly on Yahoo!’s webpage that promotes its play-for-cash fantasy basketball game.

This leads to the inevitable question: does Yahoo! believe its sponsorship with NBA.com extends to the play-for-cash leagues?  And, if so, will Yahoo! and NBA lawyers smoothly resolve their disagreement?

(For more on legal issues in fantasy sports, please see my Harvard law journal article, A Short Treatise on Fantasy Sports and the Law.  You can also follow me on Twitter here.)

This entry was posted in Fantasy Sports Law, Gaming Law, Intellectual Property, Sports Law. Bookmark the permalink.

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