Paramount to the success of any business is its brand, and thus brand recognition. You can have the best product, the brightest employees, and the most upscale offices or stores, but all of that is for naught if no one knows who you are. The most successful companies are able to build their brands to become synonymous with either a service or product so that people know reflexively what they do. But what if a company lost that brand? How readily would we be able to recognize it without the name, logo, or colors we've come to associate with it? Unfortunately for one Romanian football side, they may learn exactly what that experience is like.
Romanian football club Steaua Bucharest was stripped of its name, colors, and emblem after losing a court case to the country's defense ministry. The defense ministry claimed the club was using the Steaua brand illegally since 2004, a claim the Înalta Curte de Casaţie şi Justiţie, Romania's highest court, agreed with. While the name Steaua Bucharest might not move the needle in North America, the club is Romania's biggest and most successful football club.
The club began as Army Sports Association Bucharest, and was eventually renamed Army Sports Club Steaua Bucharest, serving as the official club of Romania's armed forces. After the Romanian Revolution of 1989, the club became a private entity under the name Steaua Bucharest and was allowed to continue to use its branding with permission of the army. That permission was revoked when the club was purchased by businessman Gigi Becali in 2004. When the club continued using the marks, the defense ministry took legal action.
The ruling led to a bizarre situation where the team was left to play a home match in yellow jerseys in place of the familiar red and blue against CSMS Iaşi, with no indicators of their club identity. The club name had been removed from all training kits and any of the club officials' suits. The scoreboard identified the club simply as "hosts," and a blank square took the place where their emblem would typically appear. Even the teamsheets distributed to journalists at the match refused to name either side. Fortunately for the "hosts," they have one match reprieve from anonymity, as the club will be allowed to use the branding for their upcoming Europa League match against Russian club Dynamo Kiev. Beyond that, the unnamed club will need to reach an agreement with the defense ministry to resume full-time use of the marks.
While this example might border on the comically absurd, there is a real risk for any business that either uses marks without protection, or without checking to see if they are infringing upon someone else's. Taking the time before branding to do necessary research, as well as time after to register your marks (valuable intangible assets), can keep you from ending up anonymous.