Who Dat Who is Protecting Dat Saints Logo?
By Evan Weiner
February 4, 2010
(New York, N. Y.) -- About 22 or 23 years ago, then Major League Baseball Commissioner Peter Ueberroth held court one spring day at the Helmsley Palace in midtown Manhattan. Ueberroth’s marketing department had just struck a multimillion dollar partnership agreement with a Japanese film company and Ueberroth was talking as we was waiting for everyone who was going to be involved in the formal announcement to arrive for the news conference.
Ueberroth posed a question and the answer to that question is the reason the National Football League decided to go after Who Dat t-shirts and other products with the words Who Dat accompanied by the New Orleans Saints fleur-de-lis logo within the last week.
Ueberroth asked a very simple question. What is the most valuable possession that a league or a franchise has? The answer was not players, coaches, managers, TV-radio contracts or fans. Ueberroth quickly answered the question.
It is the logo and Ueberroth added that a league or a franchise has to do everything in the league or franchise’s power to protect the logo.
Under Ueberroth, Major League Baseball became very protective of not only the then 26 active franchises logos but also logos of defunct businesses like the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Walter O’Malley took his Brooklyn Dodgers to Los Angeles after the 1957 season but that didn’t mean the Brooklyn Dodgers name or logo disappeared. More than three decades after the O’Malley move Major League Baseball was in court suing the owner of the Brooklyn Dodger Sports Bar and Restaurant over the name Brooklyn Dodger. Major League Baseball lost the suit after a Manhattan judge ruled that O’Malley gave up exclusive rights to the name when he moved the team to Los Angeles.
One of the more interesting things that was brought up in that trial which took place in 1993 was just how valuable Major League Baseball logos became starting with the Ueberroth’s tenure. In 1986, Ueberroth’s second year as Major League Baseball Commissioner, MLB took in about $200 million licensing various Major League Baseball and Major League Baseball team logos. In 1991, that number rose to $2 billion.
Ueberroth certainly knew his business. The Los Angeles Dodgers lost the case because no one bothered to trademark the Brooklyn Dodger name. Sports executives followed the case and likely vowed never to allow anything that could be trademarked to not be trademarked.
There are certain trademarks that were never registered. The American Basketball Association’s red, white and blue basketball is probably sports most prominent symbol that was not trademarked. The National Hockey League did not buy the World Hockey Association’s logo in the 1979 “expansion” which was absorption of four WHA teams. The NHL probably felt there was no real money in keeping those logos around.
The NFL went after New Orleans vendors who were selling Who Dat t-shirts and alike with the New Orleans Saints logo after New Orleans won the National Football Conference championship. The NFL absorbed a lot of criticism for going after the vendors but the league was well within it right to tell the vendors cease and desist.
The t-shirts had the Saints logo which is a fleur-de-lis.
The NFL cannot stop anyone from printing up a t-shirt which has the words Who Dat on it. Who Dat is an old expression which may have had roots in 19th century minstrel shows. There was a Who Dat skit in the Marx Brothers 1937 movie A Day at the Races and one the Warner Brothers censored 11 cartoons, the 1943 Tin Alley Cats, features a Fats Waller-type cat who answers a question using a variation of who dat, wid dat. (The Cartoon is widely available on the net in decent quality.) The NFL is not going to sue Time Warner, the owners of Tin Alley Cats or whoever now owns the MGM A Day at the Races release.
The Saints logo was the problem for the vendors not the Who Dat phrase. It would be the same problem in New York if someone put out a blue shirt or a green shirt with the word fuggeddabotit with a Giants or Jets logo. The logo makes the difference.
The NFL Who Dat issue reached the governor’s office in Baton Rouge forcing Governor Bobby Jindal to ask Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell to look into whether or not the NFL was looking to declare that they owned the Who Dat phrase. The NFL has no claims on the fleur-de-lis either except for the Saints logo
The vendors can sell the Who Dat shirts and other items as long as the Saints and NFL trademarks are not on them.
The fleur-de-lis has been around for centuries on various coats of arms for kings and other royalty. The NFL would also have to sue Quebec if they were serious about claiming the fleur-de-lis. The Quebec blue and white flag has a fleur-de-lis. The Quebec Nordiques hockey team had a fleur-de-lis symbol on the bottom of a players shurt during the team’s years in the National Hockey League. The New Orleans Saints’ fleur-de-lis logo is gold with black trim.
The fleur-de-lis is Louisiana’s state symbol since 2008. The state colors are blue, white and gold. The Saints official colors are black and gold. There are no official Who Dat colors.
The NFL was correct in protecting the Saints logo. You see that little piece of art connected to a team or a league is worth a lot of money.