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Washington NFL Team Punts on RedWolves Citing Trademark Issues

Jan. 5, 2022, 10:03 AM

The Washington Football Team announced it will unveil its new nickname on “2.2.22" while shooting down online fan favorite “RedWolves” over trademark concerns.

The team set the Feb. 2 reveal date, teased parts of the uniform, and eliminated RedWolves on its site and social media accounts Tuesday. The franchise has played its last two seasons under the WFT moniker and has been working to select a permanent identity since ditching the name Redskins under public pressure.

The team in September narrowed the list down to eight names: Red Hogs, Defenders, Armada, Presidents, Brigade, Commanders, RedWolves, and Washington Football Team. The team’s promotional video cut that to seven by saying its legal team determined Wolves and RedWolves are “not viable options because of trademarks held by other teams.”

The video noted fans “shared very vocally your love for one name in particular,” and said RedWolves made it to the “end stages of the process.”

But, WFT chief legal officer Damon Jones said, “searching the intellectual property landscape is extraordinarily complicated” for a mark that will be so famous. The legal team had to “make sure you create enough distance from rights that other folks have, that you don’t get yourself into legal trouble.”

The team’s press release indicated all Wolves nicknames came into the trademark clearance analysis, not just RedWolves.

“Once we began looking into Wolves, however, we became aware of a notable challenge: trademarks held by other teams would limit our ability to make the name our own. And without Wolves, variations like RedWolves wouldn’t have been viable either for these and other reasons,” the release said.

That makes sense because possible trademark registrations for every aspect of the team’s marketing, merchandise, and sports services must clear trademark searches, Barry Werbin, an intellectual property attorney at Herrick Feinstein LLP, said.

“Numerous” existing Wolves-based marks registered for sports-related goods and services could impede various WFT applications, he said, citing marks held by the Minnesota Timberwolves or its affiliate Iowa Wolves as examples.

Legal Trademark Opinion

“Even though the fan base may overwhelmingly have desired WOLVES or RED WOLVES, that desire has to give way to a legal trademark opinion, which clearly in this case threw in the monkey wrench to kill that first choice, understandably,” Werbin said in an email. “I think the team released this video so its fan base would understand better why the team could not go with this popular naming choice, and I think it’s a smart, creative, marketing move on their part.”

Trademark attorney Josh Gerben of Gerben Law Firm agreed the team may have shied away from RedWolves to make the transition as smooth as possible.

But he also said he was “perplexed” because he didn’t “see any obvious reason they could not be the RedWolves.” Even though Arkansas State, for example, goes by Red Wolves, many sports franchises share nicknames with universities such as the Boston College and Philadelphia Eagles, he noted.

Gerben acknowledged it is possible the WFT may have reached out to parties and found demands to surrender rights or enter a coexistence agreement unreasonable.

“The last thing they want is a lawsuit filed the day after a name change,” Gerben said. “If they’re not able to get issues with potentially adverse parties resolved, and there’s a name that’s cleaner from a legal perspective, they may move in that direction.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Kyle Jahner in Washington at kjahner@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Renee Schoof at rschoof@bloombergindustry.com; Kibkabe Araya at karaya@bloombergindustry.com