If you’re any sort of fan of college football, or at least aware of the product, you’ve undoubtedly noticed the proliferation of bowl games and associated sponsorship and branding around it. It’s that association with such august businesses as TaxSlayer, AutoZone and Cheez-It that give lie to the NCAA’s purported notion that the endeavor of college football itself is about shaping young men or the spirit of competition or whatever they put forth, and is not in fact a nakedly capitalistic enterprise meant to bring in millions to each respective university and billions in aggregate. Which is fine, by the way — colleges should just be honest about the pursuit, and pay the players like the income earners they are.
Another point in the column for those insisting that college football is big business is the trademark case brewing between the Pasadena Tournament of Roses Association and the City of Pasadena in entity form. Per Darren Heitner over at Above the Law, the two sides are disputing ownership of marks associated with the Rose Bowl, one of college football’s oldest and most venerated bowl games, as well as some questions regarding provisions and permissions in force majeure measures.
It’s the implementation of these measures in light of the COVID-19 pandemic that seems to have kicked off the fight that has morphed into a trademark battle; this year’s edition of the Rose Bowl was not played in its traditional home in the Rose Bowl Stadium in Pasadena, but rather at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. The decision was understandable given Southern California’s status as a COVID hotspot (or as understandable as playing a football game in a pandemic can be) but nevertheless drew the ire of the City of Pasadena, which insisted to the Tournament of Roses Association that the city needs to give its consent in order for the game to be played elsewhere.
Where the issue becomes somewhat confused is in the mixed trademark ownership. The Tournament or Roses Association owns the trademark for the Rose Bowl Game and associated marks for merchandise, while the City owns the trademark on the Rose Bowl as related to sporting events. As part of the agreement between the two sides, the game is played on the prescribed day, save for instances when the game has to be rescheduled and the stadium is in a condition to host the game on said date.
COVID-19 presented the opportunity for force majeure to be invoked by the Association in moving the game to Arlington, and given that the Rose Bowl is the crowning jewel of the city, save for a Jan and Dean song, the City took poorly to that decision, and has pushed back using intellectual property as a means to the end of achieving a punitive result. To the college football purists, this all must seem shocking, if not alien; after all, college football couldn’t just be about the money, could it?