The Big Risks of Trademark Infringement on Sports Leagues

Sports leagues and individual teams have long pursued trademarks in an attempt to protect their intellectual property. From professional sports to the collegiate ranks, teams and leagues alike have aggressively tried to protect their trademarks related to the names and mascots of these teams.

The purpose of these trademarks is to earn additional revenue above and beyond the normal income from operating as a sports league. However, protecting a trademark is paramount to keeping income stream flowing. The desire to protect trademarks has resulted in some overly-aggressive legal proceedings by sports leagues like the NFL, NCAA, or NASCAR.

The Long History of Trademarks and Sports

Sporting teams and leagues have long relied on trademarks to protect their ability to profit from their name and identity. These efforts have required a series of aggressive trademark lawsuits in order to protect intellectual property.

For years, sports leagues have trademarked a wide variety of acronyms, names, and nicknames. Colleges have not only trademarked the official names of their sports teams but also commonly used nicknames that have brand value as well. For example, Villanova has trademarked the official name of the university but also nicknames like “Nova” or “Nova nation” as well.

Risks for Small Businesses

There is a never-ending series of major sporting events that stretch across the calendar. These events are cultural phenomena that can seep into many aspects of daily life.

Small businesses frequently look to capitalize on the excitement and hype of major sporting events like March Madness or the Super Bowl as part of a marketing campaign. However, there are significant risks to doing so. If a business is found to have used a trademark improperly, there could be consequences.

There is a fine line when it comes to other businesses mentioning trademarked material. For example, there is limited prohibition on discussing a sporting event or a team. However, tying in trademarked phrases as part of a marketing campaign could leave consumers with the impression that a business is sponsoring the event or otherwise involved on a deeper level. The best advice for an individual or business is to speak to a trademark attorney before ever basing marketing campaigns on sporting events and teams.

You could find yourself facing costly consequences if you receive a notice of a trademark violation from a professional sports league. Often, this process begins with a formal demand that a business stop using the mark in an unapproved manner. That might seem like a small ask but the financial consequences could be enormous if those actions do not cease immediately.

If a business has spent a substantial sum of money on marketing material that violates a trademark, they could quickly learn that those materials are unusable. With little option but to destroy these items, a business could find itself taking catastrophic losses from which they cannot recover. Due to these risks, it is never a good idea to try and skirt the edges of trademark law.

Protect Your Business By Speaking with an Attorney

It is never in your best interest to leave questions of trademark infringement and protection to chance. If your business is relying on a tie-in to a professional sporting event or league, you could be putting your entire enterprise at risk.

An experienced IP attorney could review your plans and advise you on whether you are at risk. Reach out to Lomnitzer Law today to learn more.