Why Carrie Underwood Was Sued Over Her Sunday Night Football Theme Song

Carrie Underwood is the longest-running NFL theme song singer to date, but that's not to say she hasn't faced some controversies along the way. Far from it; back in 2019, another singer-songwriter claimed that Underwood and her team had stolen the previous year's theme, "Game On," from her. 

The NFL first announced that Underwood would be joining as the singer for the "NBC Sunday Night Football" theme song back in 2013. Prior to her taking the reins, the theme had been sung by Faith Hill for a whopping six years — however, with a decade under her belt, it's safe to say this is a role Underwood has become almost synonymous with. It's for precisely that reason, then, that many a songwriter would clamor to be involved in each year's new offering. Such was the case in 2017, when singer-songwriter, Heidi Merrill submitted a song for Underwood's producer to consider. However, when Underwood's "Game On" — released as the following year's theme song — sounded a little too similar to what she'd submitted (and without getting any credit), Merrill and her team filed a lawsuit. 

According to Merrill and those she'd worked with on the track, a number of factors led them to believe that their own "Game On" had been copied. As such, they sued not just Underwood and her team, but the NFL and NBC, too. A ballsy move, no doubt — but we're not too sure it worked in their favor. 

Carrie was accused of intentional similarities

According to the complaint filed by Heidi Merrill and her co-songwriters, Niclas Lundin, Alex Wong, and Jeff Cohen, any similarity between Carrie Underwood's "Game On" and their own was far from mere coincidence (via Heitner Legal). Their reasoning? The assistant to Mark Bright, Underwood's producer, had acknowledged receipt of their submission, and said they wouldn't proceed with it. As noted in the lawsuit, that suggested to them that Bright, Underwood, and the rest of the team involved in the resulting NFL song had heard Merrill's track before putting theirs together.

In light of that, when Underwood's 2018 NFL theme song was released, Merrill, Lundin, Wong, and Cohen believed there was intent behind the similarities. Said similarities went beyond the song title, too. They also cited comparable note and chord progression, among other elements, in the filing. As a result, the songwriters complained that they'd lost out on significant earnings, and sought to go to jury trial against everyone involved for whatever damages the court saw fit. 

Speaking to CNN of the situation, Merrill and her team's lawyer, Sam P. Israel told the outlet that he had no doubts the similarities had been a deliberate, shady move by Underwood and co. "This is a blatant attempt by a celebrity singer to rip off other artists' work, and it won't be tolerated," he told the outlet. As for Underwood, the NFL, and NBC, they didn't comment on the matter. 

Just months later, the whole lawsuit was dropped

Despite their initial confidence in taking on country queen, Carrie Underwood, the NFL, and NBC, just under four months later, The Blast reported that Heidi Merrill's lawsuit had been quietly dropped. Though it's never been made explicit why that was the case, according to the outlet, Merrill simply told the court that she would no longer be proceeding. 

Whether that had anything to do with the magnitude of the parties involved — none of the parties mentioned were small fish to fry – it's never been discussed. In fact, the entire issue was put to bed remarkably quietly — surprising, given that when it came to previous accusations of copying, Underwood was fairly quick to respond, either via lawyers or other spokespeople. Back in 2014, when she and Brad Paisley were accused of plagiarism in "Remind Me," court documents obtained by Radar Online showed that both singers shut the suggestion down, unequivocally. Then, when Underwood was accused of copying "Something in the Water," a representative rubbished the claims to The Tennessean, highlighting that the song was about Underwood's own faith.

Either way, it's clear the lawsuit had no bearing on Underwood's relationship with the NFL or NBC. In September 2023, she released a reboot of the longtime favorite, "Waiting All Day for Sunday Night," in honor of the new season. And, for anyone open to incorporating Merrill's "Game On" into their game day playlist, that's available on YouTube, too.