In what speaks to the relative strangeness of our times, speculation on new names for sports teams via trademark filing observations is now something of a pastime for sports fans, adjacent to the pastime itself. It happened with the now-Football Team of Washington, and is still happening as the team has yet to settle on a new long-term name: intrepid reporters dive into the USPTO database to uncover what trademarks the team’s ownership group holds and tries to suss out the most likely candidate for the new moniker. It’s as yet proved unfruitful for Washington fans, who will have to wait longer yet to learn what they will scream at their team as they squander yet another game.
Now fans of Cleveland’s baseball team can engage in the same rampant speculation, given that the on-field product may not be worth much attention. As has been reported, the team will change its name from the Indians to something else, and as noted by Darren Heitner over at Above the Law, the team is taking its time so as to avoid a trademark snafu as may (or may not) have ensnared the Washington Football Team.
The team is buying itself time by delaying the change to 2022, meaning that for the 2021 season they will remain the Indians. As Heitner notes, it would hardly do to move from an offensive name to an infringing name, and given that the rollout will undoubtedly come paired with no shortage of merchandise for Cleveland fans to snap up, the team can’t afford a mistake. (Based upon recent roster moves, the team is seemingly unable to afford good players as well.)
With such an announcement inevitably comes opportunists looking to squat on a trademark, likely in the hopes of a big payday. (Those hoping for a big check must be unaware of the spendthrift tenure of the Dolan family as owners of the franchise.) Heitner’s piece makes note of some of the speculative filings made by fans and/or gamblers, and while some are good guesses, it seems unlikely that the franchise would announce a move with a requisite planning period and then be backed into a corner by some random punter from Parma, but stranger things have happened, particularly for this snake-bitten franchise.
The lessons from this story are manifold: if you’re going to rebrand, give your company sufficient time to sort out intellectual property issues so you’re not leaping before you look. There’s also a more salient point that the name you choose shouldn’t be something that requires changing because it’s racially insensitive, but that should hopefully go without saying in 2021.