Businesses walk fine line when supporting Colts

Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share

Scotty’s Brewhouse owner Scott Wise learned a costly lesson when the Indianapolis Colts last appeared in the Super Bowl and he tested the National Football League’s stringent trademark-infringement policies.

To celebrate the milestone in 2007, Wise had blue T-shirts printed with the number of a Colts player on the back and a horseshoe on the sleeve that he said differed from the team logo.

Wise even cleared the design with his attorneys to ensure the shirt he sold to patrons did not violate NFL rules.

Yet, even though the Colts team name never appeared on the garment, it caught the attention of the NFL, which showed no leniency.

Wise, who thinks someone forwarded to the league an e-mail of his promoting the apparel, received a cease-and-desist letter from officials. OK, fair enough, Wise said.

But the NFL also ordered him to return about 600 remaining unsold shirts at a cost of about $6,000, in addition to the $1,800 profit he had made. All told, including what he spent to have the shirts made, he lost between $10,000 and $12,000.

It’s a valuable lesson Wise won’t forget, and one fellow business owners undoubtedly will heed, if they haven’t already, as the Colts prepare to play the New Orleans Saints on Sunday.

“The whole thing to me is kind of frustrating,” Wise said. “I understand the NFL is trying to protect their brand and image. But the NFL wants to put their hands on everything.”

The league’s infringement policies, which are meant to protect authorized vendors and advertisers, have received nearly as much attention as the Super Bowl in the days leading up to the game.

That’s because a pair of young entrepreneurs printed T-shirts emblazoned with the “Who Dat” slogan, a decades-old rallying cry in Saints lore, accompanied by the team emblem.

After ordering them to stop selling the merchandise, the NFL softened its stance and allowed the shirts as long as they didn’t feature the team logo.

NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said in a statement that the league initially took action to “protect the local businesses that are selling legitimate Saints merchandise and also the local printers that are making the licensed Saints apparel.”

At last year’s Super Bowl in Tampa, counterfeit NFL gear was widespread, and hundreds of spectators left the game with cheap, fake football jerseys and merchandise, the Washington, D.C.-based International Trademark Association said.

The ITA estimated that about $1 million of phony NFL merchandise was sold at the game last year.

Tom Walsh, a partner within Indianapolis-based law firm Ice Miller LLP’s intellectual property practice, understands the NFL’s enforcement actions. He said they are levied to protect sponsors who pay big bucks to be affiliated with the league, or a particular team.

Sponsorship agreements often range in the hundreds of thousands of dollars and can reach into the millions.

“[The NFL has] a reputation of being aggressive in this area,” Walsh said. “The risk, though, of not being aggressive is pretty significant. [The NFL is],  in essence, a brand name.”

That’s why scores of businesses that are not officially affiliated with the Colts throw their support behind the team in generic fashion.

Motorists traveling along East 86th Street near the Monon Trail, for instance, see a blue Kroger billboard that simply says, “Go Team!” without any mention of the Colts.

And Taylor’s Bakery is selling blue and white, as well as horseshoe-shaped, doughnuts. The bakery purchased some pre-licensed, edible Colts images from the NFL to decorate cakes, but the expense prevented co-owner Matt Allen from purchasing more.

He declined to divulge the cost of the edible images, but he said the price for a sheet cake that typically sells for $24 rises to $39 when it features a Colts emblem.

A veteran of the bakery industry, Allen knows not to test the trademark waters, particularly when decorating cakes.

“It’s not just the Colts copyright, it’s Disney, it’s Nickelodeon,” he said. “They’re all very protective of their names. I’m just so used to it. It just doesn’t surprise me.”

Meanwhile, for Colts fans planning to patronize their favorite eatery or watering hole on Sunday, enjoy the “Big Game” festivities. That’s a popular term coined to promote the parties, since the NFL has trademarked the use of “Super Bowl.”

Scotty’s Brewhouse is being a little more daring, inviting customers to its "Super Party."


  • Playing by the rules...
    Another option is to call the Colts and partner up with them on a sponsorship package.

    Not free or real cheap but legal...and from my personal experience of two small businesses that sponsor the Colts...has paid dividends. Then as a business you will have access to "approved" logo's and articles that show your support of the Colts and their "partnership" with you either in a business to business setting or commercially.
  • Racketeering 2010
    It seems that this is 21st century version of Trust businesses we experienced at the end of the 19th Century. To say that we control your language, everything you do with a cha-ching charge is the same as Standard Oil, etc. telling their workers they must live in their homes, buy from their stores, use their own banks, etc. The NFL should only be in business for football and leave teeshirts, cakes, billboards, etc. to the "fans" they so deparately say they want.

Post a comment to this story

We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in IBJ editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.

Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

Sponsored by

facebook - twitter on Facebook & Twitter

Follow on TwitterFollow IBJ on Facebook:
Follow on TwitterFollow IBJ's Tweets on these topics:
Subscribe to IBJ
  1. With Pence running the ship good luck with a new government building on the site. He does everything on the cheap except unnecessary roads line a new beltway( like we need that). Things like state of the art office buildings and light rail will never be seen as an asset to these types. They don't get that these are the things that help a city prosper.

  2. Does the $100,000,000,000 include salaries for members of Congress?

  3. "But that doesn't change how the piece plays to most of the people who will see it." If it stands out so little during the day as you seem to suggest maybe most of the people who actually see it will be those present when it is dark enough to experience its full effects.

  4. That's the mentality of most retail marketers. In this case Leo was asked to build the brand. HHG then had a bad sales quarter and rather than stay the course, now want to go back to the schlock that Zimmerman provides (at a considerable cut in price.) And while HHG salesmen are, by far, the pushiest salesmen I have ever experienced, I believe they are NOT paid on commission. But that doesn't mean they aren't trained to be aggressive.

  5. The reason HHG's sales team hits you from the moment you walk through the door is the same reason car salesmen do the same thing: Commission. HHG's folks are paid by commission they and need to hit sales targets or get cut, while BB does not. The sales figures are aggressive, so turnover rate is high. Electronics are the largest commission earners along with non-needed warranties, service plans etc, known in the industry as 'cheese'. The wholesale base price is listed on the cryptic price tag in the string of numbers near the bar code. Know how to decipher it and you get things at cost, with little to no commission to the sales persons. Whether or not this is fair, is more of a moral question than a financial one.