SBD/June 19, 2014/Franchises

Trademark Ruling Unlikely To Have Immediate Impact On Redskins' Financials

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Yesterday's ruling has no effect on the team’s right to use the name and logo
The U.S. Patent & Trademark Office's decision yesterday to cancel the Redskins' trademark registration "was the latest indication of mounting disapproval of one of the league’s most established and lucrative brands, and it is likely to amplify a strident debate at the crossroads of politics, sports and money," according to Belson & Wyatt of the N.Y. TIMES. The decision by the Trademark Trial & Appeal Board is "unlikely to have an immediate financial impact while the team appeals the ruling." Even if the decision "is not overturned, the Redskins can use the name and enforce its trademarks using common-law rights." But Native American groups and members of Congress "who have pressured" NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and Redskins Owner Daniel Snyder to "abandon the name said the decision was more evidence that the league and the team must change with the times." Redskins trademark attorney Bob Raskopf in a statement "pointed to a similar decision in 1999 that was reversed years later." He said, "We’ve seen this story before. And just like last time, today’s ruling will have no effect at all on the team’s ownership of and right to use the Redskins name and logo." However, Belson & Wyatt write with members of the federal government having "spoken on the issue, the larger battle will be fought in the court of public opinion" (N.Y. TIMES, 6/19). Trademark lawyers said that the decision "largely is inconsequential to the team, even if it loses an appeal." The common-law rights would allow the franchise to "make a case against any individual or organization looking to profit" from the Redskins name (WASHINGTON POST, 6/19). Univ. of Richmond School of Law professor Kristen Osenga: "While this probably is a moral victory for people who don't like the term, it isn't going to keep the team from using the term or even suing other people who are" (WASHINGTON TIMES, 6/19).

T-SHIRT TIME? In L.A., Sam Farmer notes it is unclear how much yesterday's decision "will erode the Redskins' ability to protect their brand." The "true impact might not be known until the franchise files suit against the next person or entity selling unauthorized merchandise" (L.A. TIMES, 6/19). In N.Y., Belson & Corasaniti note because of the "active market in sports merchandise and the flood of counterfeits from overseas," some companies undoubtedly will try to "exploit the team's lack of federal trademark protection." Without federal protection of the name, U.S. Customs & Border Protection "would no longer have to block the import of counterfeit goods, though the Redskins could still sue counterfeiters" (N.Y. TIMES, 6/19). Trademark attorney Howard Hogan said, "I would not take this as a green light to go out there and start printing fake Redskins jerseys and going out and selling them" ("CBS This Morning," 6/19). But Virginia-based copyright law expert Brad Newberg said, "Joe in Peoria is going to have a pretty good argument that he could put the 'Redskins' name on some T-shirt" (AP, 6/18).

IT COMES DOWN TO DOLLARS: ESPN's Jim Trotter said if the Redskins are going to change the name, it is "going to be out of financial concerns, not as a moral issue." Snyder has shown that he "is not going to be bullied by people who are telling him that this is a disparaging name and that it needs to be changed" ("SportsCenter," ESPN, 6/18). THE MMQB's Jenny Vrentas noted the trademark board's ruling is "just the first step -- but its greatest impact could be outside the courtroom." DC-based National Congress of American Indians Exec Dir Jacqueline Pata: "I'm thinking about sponsorships now. This is bigger than just a trademark decision. The (sponsors) will be taking note. Do they really want to be associated with the team when there is such groundswell rejecting the name? I think when that happens, that starts hitting at the core, at the financial positioning" (MMQB.SI.com, 6/18). SportsBusiness Journal's Daniel Kaplan said the "only way it really begins to affect the bottom line of the Redskins is if major sponsors stood up or if potential stadium backers stood up and said, 'We won't be involved with this'" ("Nightly News," NBC, 6/18). In Cleveland, Jeff Darcy writes the NFL "always talks about protecting the 'Shield.'" The continuing controversy over the Redskins name and the loss of trademark protections "blows huge holes in that 'Shield' that the NFL can't afford long term" (CLEVELAND.com, 6/19). The S.F. Chronicle's Ann Killion said when the Redskins begin to lose merchandise revenue, then the NFL "is going to step in." Killion: "All the teams will lose money, then the NFL will go, 'Oh, we're losing money. All of sudden we're going to have a moral conscience and we're going to change the name'" ("Yahoo Sports Talk Live," CSN Bay Area, 6/18).

REACHING THE BOILING POINT
: In DC, Robert McCartney writes the ruling is "mostly symbolic, for now, but the symbolism packs a sizable wallop." The U.S. Patent & Trademark Office put Snyder and the NFL "on the defensive in the vital arena of public relations" (WASHINGTON POST, 6/19). Trademark lawyer Joel Feldman said the impact of the ruling right now is "more psychological than legal." However, it will "embolden the Native Americans to show that this is an offensive term to them and it will definitely help their PR campaign" ("Olbermann," ESPN2, 6/18). USA TODAY's Erik Brady notes controversy "over the term 'Redskins' simmered on a back burner" for years, but the "temperature rose" over in the last 13 months. Yesterday's ruling "appears to put the matter at full boil." Siegel+Gale Group Dir of Naming & Brand Development Christian Turner: "The hits have been piling up, and at what point does that pile get big enough to tip the scales?" (USA TODAY, 6/19). In Newark, Dave D'Alessandro writes if Snyder "loses his appeal, he will recognize the tipping point." His logo will "essentially be devalued beyond recognition" (Newark STAR-LEDGER, 6/19). In Chicago, Karp & Channick write the decision "adds to the straws that may one day break the resolve" of Snyder (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 6/19).

HOW WILL FANS REACT? In Louisville, Adam Himmelsbach writes, "If -- or when -- the name change finally occurs, there will be initial outrage, but then they will get over it, because we always get over it" (Louisville COURIER-JOURNAL, 6/19). However, Maryland-based Maroon PR President John Maroon, a former spokesperson for the Redskins, said, "The Redskins have a very old and loyal fan base and many of them would be outraged if the name changed. From a business perspective, if they did change the name, they would certainly lose a lot of their existing, long-standing fans and face their wrath but would gain a handful of new fans" (Baltimore SUN, 6/19).

FROM THE EDITORIAL BOARD: A WASHINGTON POST editorial states Snyder would be "smart to take this as an opportunity." He is "kidding himself if he thinks concerns about the continued use of an offensive name can be waved away as easily as a reporter's question." Traditions matter, but "times -- and language -- change." If Snyder "declines to recognize as much, officials and other NFL owners must take action." They, too, are "being harmed by this obdurate last stand" (WASHINGTON POST, 6/19). A Newark STAR-LEDGER editorial states, "Now is the opportunity for the Redskins name to be retired -- along with its close relatives in cities such as Cleveland, Atlanta and Kansas City." If Snyder's "financial protections are struck down, that might be the final straw in convincing him that a tradition rooted in racism isn't worth preserving" (Newark STAR-LEDGER, 6/19). A CHICAGO TRIBUNE editorial states Snyder "ought to change the name." That said, what the government did yesterday to "force his hand is troubling." The government, in effect, is "penalizing Snyder for exercising his First Amendment rights" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 6/19).
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