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Friday, January 06, 2006 
got team spirit? you'd better pay for it
colts fever usually sweeps indiana around this time each year, as die hard fans get die harder and fair weather fans come out, pretending to have cared all along. this year it's even more intense, as the colts seem to have a real chance of making the super bowl instead of getting shut down by the new england patriots as has happened the past few years. colts fever doesn't affect me much, as i don't really care about sports even when local teams are doing well. but today's star has a story that's more up my alley. (colts ice cream photo taken from junk food blog.) it's about how the colts organization combats those who abuse its trademarks by... cheering them on?

"Go Colts," say signs and banners in office buildings around the region. Neon Colts signs light up windows in local bars, a lure to fans in search of a place to watch the game.

Any Colts spirit, though, quickly can evaporate for businesses that the team deems to be using team logos or trademarks without proper authorization. Offenders face the threat of a nasty hit, not from a linebacker, but from a lawyer.

The legal teams for the Colts and the National Football League say they are aggressively defending their trademark turf. The offender could be a store without a sponsorship deal saying "Go Colts" in an advertisement or giving away tickets as part of a promotion.

i posted ever so briefly about trademark dilution last month and while i think it's yet another absurd aspect of our "permission" culture where corporations try to own and control everything, at least those examples made a bit of sense. obviously it's not in johnson & johnson's best interest for people to use the term "band-aid" to refer to other brands of bandages. but there's no real dilution here: when these businesses refer to the colts, they're talking about... the colts. not just talking, but cheering! they're saying "GO COLTS!" and the colts are saying "go fuck yourselves!"

all right, maybe it's not quite that bad, as the colts assure us that they are "pretty gentle" on their first warning.

The hunt for violators, he said, is important given how much some businesses are spending to associate themselves with the Colts.

The Colts won't say how much they're ringing up in sponsorship income, but they said the team has roughly 170 deals worth anywhere from $25,000 to more than $1 million apiece.

The arrangements include sports-sponsorship mainstays like Budweiser, the official beer, and Gatorade, the official sports drink.

you can cheer on the colts for free once. after that, it'll cost you $25k or more.

But any company can cheer on the team without buying a sponsorship. They are allowed to hang banners, such as "Go Colts," in windows or marquee signs. But they are prohibited from using the team's name or logos in any advertising or promotions. "They need to keep it on the premises," Souers said.

Last month the team's general counsel, Bose McKinney & Evans lawyer Daniel Emerson, sent letters to hundreds of media outlets across the state warning against any "temptations to inappropriately" use the team's logos or trademarks. Common violations, Emerson said, include using Colts names in advertisements or tickets for promotional giveaways.

Common violators include retailers putting the Colts logos in newspaper advertisements or on Web sites, he said. A warning letter is sent once a violation is spotted. "If they don't stop they will face litigation," said Emerson, adding that no disputes in recent years have made it to court. He said he has sent about 20 cease-and-desist letters this season.

so i can't actually buy tickets and give them away for free without paying the colts extra? aren't the tickets expensive enough on their own?

The businesses that pay for the right to associate themselves with the Colts have a variety of motivations.

For Uncle Bill's, which competes with national chains such as PetSmart, buying a Colts sponsorship is a chance to emphasize its local ties as a family business, said owner Lori Wilson, whose grandfather started the pet center.

Uncle Bill's gets to sell official Colts gear such as bowls, collars, leashes and bandanas. The Colts includes the pet company's winning photo from the company's pet-of-the-game contest in the game program and shows it on the screen at the RCA Dome. Uncle Bill's also uses those images in its advertisements.

"People get excited because they're passionate about the Colts and they're passionate about their animals," said Wilson, a Colts season ticker holder. "It's been a good fit for us."

clearly uncle bill's gets some real value out of that deal: cross-promotion, for one thing. and companies that license the right to make colts-themed merchandise (like colts ice cream, which i can only assume is pigskin flavored) probably get their money's worth too.

but i'm a little curious about just how much a company like lucas oil products benefits from providing the "official oil products" for the colts. it's not like the colts actually use oil products in the game. (then again, dogs and cats aren't used in the game either, though if you want a doggie sweater with a blue horseshoe on it, you can probably get one at uncle bill's.) it reminds me of how absurd i always thought it was for brands like snicker's and mcdonald's to sponsor the olympics (warning: if you eat a lot of snicker's bars or mcdonald's, you probably won't be in good enough shape to make the olympic team).

i'm probably being a bit hard on the colts for something that is endemic to all major-league sports. but all this totalitarianism about trademark use by people and businesses that are trying to show their support (even if doing so disingenuously to make capital off the colts name) is downright silly.

while I of course have little doubt about the greediness of the Irsays, remember the NFL's marketing and licensing arrangments are different than every other sport. Proceeds from gear,logo items etc are dumped into a big pot and split up according to NFL rules. Each team does not get to keep all the $ they might earn from their name. ¶

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—posted by Anonymous virago, at 4:10 PM, January 11, 2006  

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