At The Ballyard ... with Steve Weissman

Thursday, February 23, 2006

What’s in a Name? Nationals Suffer Identity Crisis

Pity the poor Nationals. Never mind that they still don’t have a real owner and are run by Major League Baseball itself. Never mind they still don’t have a deal in place for a ballpark to replace old RFK Stadium. Now it turns out they may not have the right to sell clothing with their name on it, either!

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office last week granted the request of apparel company Bygone Sports to register the name “Washington Nationals.” If upheld in an already-scheduled federal court proceeding due to begin on April 3 (coincidentally, the team’s Opening Day), this ruling would prohibit the ballclub from selling apparel with its name on it unless a licensing deal is struck. Since the Nationals were among baseball’s leading sellers of merchandise last year, the cost of such a deal stands to be quite high.

At issue is whether major league baseball maintained its right to the name in the years since 1956, when the American League’s Washington Nationals renamed themselves the Washington Senators. It is also unclear whether baseball had reached agreement with Bygone Sports before the new Nationals were unveiled, only to have that deal fall apart before the team began play.

Whatever happens, the Team in the Nation’s Capital apparently still will be allowed to wear uniforms with the word Nationals on the front. However, reports are that baseball plans to change the team’s name should it lose the case, a development that will only further frustrate DC-area fans and complicate MLB’s ability to sell the team.

Who knows: maybe the club in Lowell, Mass. will step in and extend its Yankees Elimination Promotion to the Nats. Washington Spinners, anyone?


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