Major League Baseball is playing it safe with player nicknames that will adorn novelty uniforms during what it calls Players Weekend at the end of August.
But there won’t be any nicknames that could possibly bring MLB trademark infringement troubles.
Last week, MLB announced that all its clubs will take the field in brightly colored duds that break some venerable traditions. All the jerseys will be two-tone softball-style pullovers paired with bright blue, yellow, purple, red, and orange caps.
Even the New York Yankees, a team that have kept their uniforms basically unchanged since 1936, are participating in the promotion. Possibly even more shocking to Yankees fans, will be the appearance of NOBs or “name on backs.” The Yankees have resisted putting player names on the backs of jerseys throughout their major league existence. The NOBs will be nicknames chosen by the players themselves.
“Baseball fans are getting older and these jerseys are a way to appeal to younger fans,” sports lawyer Aaron B. Swerdlow of Gerard Fox Law PC, Los Angeles, told Bloomberg BNA. “It’s more than merchandising; it’s more about creating buzz on platforms where younger fans are gathering.”
However, Philly.com reported that at least two Philadelphia Phillies players were denied their preferred nicknames because of intellectual property concerns. Zach Eflin and Hoby Milner wanted to wear the nicknames “Led Zeflin” and “Hoby Wan Kenobi” on their backs, but MLB nixed them.
“I think that’s the teams being very conservative and not wanting to risk a trademark fight and not wanting to put money from apparel sales at risk,” Swerdlow said.
Eric Ball, an intellectual property lawyer with Fenwick & West LLP, Mountain View, Calif., said that “Hoby Wan Kenobi” probably wouldn’t harm the Walt Disney Co.’s Star Wars trademark if it appeared on the player’s shirt.
“But it’s a source of licensing revenue that those companies could have used,” Ball said. “Also, it’s not necessarily three days, because how long will these jerseys stay in the MLB shops?”
And that of course is the key. Sports leagues feature novelty uniforms so that fans will buy them.
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