In recent years, there has been a reckoning for many teams that use American Indian names and iconography. Prevailing winds in many communities have made the usage problematic. The Washington Football Team is still working on a new name, but the baseball team known as the Cleveland Indians since 1915 announced in July of 2021 that it was changing its name to the Cleveland Guardians. However, a local semi-professional roller derby team already used the name.
A trademark dispute arises
The roller derby team owner filed a trademark infringement lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio. The non-profit team called itself the Guardians in 2013 and registered the name with Ohio’s secretary of state in 2017. It also claimed that the baseball organization was clearly aware of the name but took it anyway.
One of the primary uses of trademarks is to protect brands and logos from infringement, but it does not always stop others (often with more resources) from trying.
Seeing an opportunity, the owner of the roller derby team pivoted, trying to sell the rights of the name, website and other rights to the baseball team. The ex-Indians responded with an inadequate proposal that was rejected and countered. The baseball team ignored the offer, but the lawsuit delayed the official change in name.
Finding a solution
In late October of last year, the two sides announced that they had come to an agreement. They did not disclose the deal’s financial details, but the owner of the roller derby team will likely get some money for sharing the name with the baseball team. Perhaps the baseball team did the math on the revenue jump merchandise sales that will come from the switch and opted to pay the money.
Other teams have shared
This is not the first time two sports teams shared a name while based in the same city. New York had the Giants football and baseball teams until the latter moved to San Francisco in 1957. St. Louis had the Cardinals baseball and football teams from 1960 to 1987 when the football team went to Phoenix.