As a surprise to many, the Washington Redskins recently announced that it will be changing its 87-year old name. This decision comes after recent events that sparked nationwide discussions about race and caused various corporate sponsors to exert pressure on the Redskins’ organization. But it also comes after years of the Redskins fighting to protect what the USPTO argued were disparaging trademarks, which this blog closely followed in relation to both the Redskins and a rock band whose case made it to the Supreme Court. Ultimately, the disparaging trademark ban in the Lanham Act was found unconstitutional such that it could not bar the registration of an allegedly disparaging mark. Accordingly, the Redskins were able to possess trademarks over a name that many believed was disparaging to Native Americans.
Now the Redskins are facing a very different trademark battle. According to the Washington Post, although the organization has a preferred name, it is being held up by trademark issues caused by those who have applied for trademarks on names they bet will be chosen. Although those applications may not ultimately hold water, the organization appears to be waiting to unveil its new name and logo until those issues are resolved. Right now, there is an impetus to do so quickly, as the team will need updated helmets, uniforms, signage, and promotional materials in advance of the first kick-off in just a few weeks.
Of course this decision will also have a significant advertising and marketing impact. The organization not only needs to make various changes for advertising purposes, but advertisers and sponsors themselves will want to change their messaging and certainly third-party merchandise stores will also be affected. The advertising that exists behind professional sports teams is significant and far-reaching, so changing a team name/logo is no small feat.