UK Politician Threatens To Sue Football Team For Infringement If It Moves, But Keeps Its Name

from the does-this-really-need-a-lawsuit dept

While I’m not all that familiar with football clubs in the UK, here in the US when a sports team moves, it almost always changes the “location” part of the name to match their new location. So, when the Brooklyn Dodgers moved to Los Angeles, they became the LA Dodgers. That seems perfectly reasonable, but is it worth a trademark lawsuit? Reader Jamie, points us to the news that UK Parliament Member David Lammy (last seen here on Techdirt defending the idea of kicking people off the internet for infringement) is threatening to sue the Tottenham Hotspur for infringement if they move away from Tottenham, as the club would apparently like to do. Of course, what I don’t understand is why the club would want to hold onto the old location after it had moved. Why would that even make sense? I guess the closest example I can think of in the US was the legal fight over the Angels baseball team, which went from being the Anaheim Angels (or California Angels before that) to the ridiculously long Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, to try to play up the LA connection. But, again, is this really an “intellectual property” issue? Perhaps a UK football fan can explain to us why a team not in Tottenham would wish to keep the Tottenham name.

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Comments on “UK Politician Threatens To Sue Football Team For Infringement If It Moves, But Keeps Its Name”

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43 Comments

Spurs

Lots of UK sports teams use a name which no longer denotes their current location, with the most flagrant example being rugby team London Irish which in C19th was a London-based team made up of Irishmen and is now a team made up of anyone who wants to play rugby in Reading, a town thirty miles down the road. Locals therefore refer to London Irish as the “not-nots”, but there is no serious suggestion the name should change.

And that suggests, perhaps, three reasons a UK sports team wouldn’t bother changing its name just because it moved.

Many teams have had their name for more than a hundred years and the legacy of the name is more important than the location it refers to.

Tottenham isn’t a city, it’s just a small part of London, so really Tottenham Hotspur is a club in and from London that happens to be named after a borough (imagine the Haight Ashbury 49ers or the East Village Mets).

Finally, England just isn’t that big and many of the biggest teams are in the same few cities. A team might move just a few miles and still nominally leave its naming location – Spurs could relocate out of Tottenham into Harringay or Islington by moving literally half a dozen miles down the road (but then they’d be in the same place as Arsenal, who were once Woolwich Arsenal but became just Arsenal when they left that bit of London).

Richardsays:

Re: Re: Spurs

. Locals therefore refer to London Irish as the “not-nots”, but there is no serious suggestion the name should change.

Works with TV programmes too. We have a police Drama called “Taggart”. Both the actor and the character died several years ago – but it’s still called “Taggart”.

Then – going back – there was “Blake’s Seven”, which had five main characters none of whom was called Blake!

Aaronsays:

Re: Re: Re: Re: Spurs

Then – going back – there was “Blake’s Seven”, which had five main characters none of whom was called Blake!

You’re (mostly) wrong about that ๐Ÿ™‚

The main character is called Roj Blake, and the crew number seven. Cally, the final member, is introduced in the fourth episode.
(Granted, some characters die as the series progresses, including Blake himself).

As for Spurs – you can’t change the name. They’re not “Hotspur from Tottenham”. You wouldn’t move Man Utd to London and call them London United!

ccsays:

I’m definitely not a footb.. erm, “soccer” fan, but I’m pretty sure that Tottenham Hotspur is a very old and very strong brand that is known all over Europe — even I know that they’ve won a few UEFA cups.

They’d be mad to let go of their name, and I’m doubtful the Tottenham MP is trying to have them give up their name. He must be trying to legally blackmail them into staying in Tottenham! Really, how can he think he can trademark a place name??

Gee, maybe York should sue New York…

vivaelamorsays:

Re: Re:

‘I’m definitely not a footb.. erm, “soccer” fan, but I’m pretty sure that Tottenham Hotspur is a very old and very strong brand that is known all over Europe — even I know that they’ve won a few UEFA cups. ‘

Yeah, I’m not a football fan either but I can see why they’d want to keep the name. ‘Stratford Hotspurs’ doesn’t seem to have the same ring to it.

Anonymoussays:

Re: Re:

I suspect this is probably closer to the truth: that the intent is really to pressure them to stay. My reasoning for this is, as Liverpool FC fan, we had similar shenanigans not so long ago when LFC attempted to build a new stadium. After being refused permission to build on the selected ground very close to the present stadium, they picked a new site on the borders of (or just outside) the city.

Once it became clear they might move, taking a massive amount of business (and I mean MASSIVE) that would have a huge impact on the area, with them, the permission to build on their originally selected site was granted. As if by magic.. tada!!!!

nelsoncruzsays:

Well… I knew we had “protected denomination of origin” stuff here in europe, a concept that works a bit like intellectual property, but I thought that was just for food, wines, and such. ๐Ÿ™‚

The Guardian only mentions having the trademark removed on the grounds of it being “misleading or deceptive”.

As for the team wanting to keep the name… I’d guess its because of the valuable merchandising business. Plus, the club isn’t even moving outside of London. They just want to build the new stadium where it’s cheaper, in a different borough. From what I could figure out, Stratford is just about 9 miles away from Tottenham!

On the other and… the club started as Hotspur F.C.. So why not go back to that?

The eejitsays:

Re: Re:

Incorrect, both are from Manchester (the Greater Manchester area, actually), but United were formed as the Lancashire-Yorkshire Railway of Newton heath football club, who rebranded in 1902. Manchester City were known as Manchester City almost from forming.

As to the topic at hand, Topttenham Hotspur could quite happily lose the name and take up their nickname (Spurs) as the club’s name with little loss of brand.

And Um Jammer Lammy deserves everything he gets – he’s very similar to Sen Lieberman in the US.

Anonymoussays:

Re: Re: You cannot mess with British Football

Rabid fans abound in Great Britain, and make certain that if you buy one of their teams, with the sole intent of running it into the ground and squeezing every drop of profit you can in as short a time as possible, destroying decades of culture and history, purely to line some fat cat Americans pocket who doesn’t give a shit about anything to do with the club, don’t expect any love:

FTFY!

Stevesays:

Tradition plays a huge part in football, Tottenham have been around since 1882 and are steeped in history (as are a large proportion of football teams in the UK) and are only moving a small distance. Everything else about the team is staying the same.

To be honest we find it abhorrent the way ‘sports franchises’ are just picked up and moved about the US and the only time this has ever been tried in the UK was when Wimbledon FC – a London based club were bought, rebranded as MK Dons and moved to Milton Keynes.

They have lost most of their original fan base and really are a source of ridicule and contempt in the UK. A lot of the fans of the original Wimbledon have started their own team (with financial backers) called AFC Wimbledon. They have had to start from the bottom of the leagues and work their way up but they are getting there and good luck to them.

Alisays:

Historically, it’s worth remembering that as a football fan you support your local club (ie the one you could walk to) and as such there is a very large core group of fans from the area in question (usually boroughs, or small towns. The large cities have many, many clubs). The result of this is a very strong identification with the area in the team name, in this case Tottenham. Although, now the ability to travel means that most teams in the country are accessible, the old old ethos of supporting your local club is still incredibly strong even within cities. This is why we find it so abhorrent that American sports fans allow their teams to move around the country in the fashion they do.

Anonymoussays:

Re: Re:

Ali and Steve,

You guys make it sound like our teams move around once a year. They don’t. Hell, they don’t even move around once a decade. And we are spread out much more than you guys are. 31 US states are bigger than England. When our teams do move it’s because of economic reasons (even if they are made up). The core teams of all the leagues won’t ever move. For instance, Dallas, Green Bay, and Pittsburgh would never move to another city even though they have national followings. The Boston Celtics and Chicago Bulls in the NBA would never move. The Yankees will never leave NY. So, while I’m glad that you feel bad when a team moves just like American fans do as well, please don’t act like it’s a common occurrence.

Daniel Morrittsays:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Not quite as bad as that, the NY Yankees could probably build a new stadium in another part of New York without the fuss. Apparently Spurs (or Tottenham Hotspurs as they are known) can’t.

But Liverpool could move anywhere across Liverpool without this trouble, since Tottenham isn’t that big a place (it’s just a small part of London), it’s basically impossible for Spurs to move around inside it if they really wanted.

Xansays:

Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

Very true. Other teams such as the New York Jets and Giants don’t even play in their “home” states. They are based out of, and play in, New Jersey.

And then you have teams like the Texas Rangers, Arizona Cardinals, and Arizona D-Backs that named themselves after the state. I guess they can move around the state at will without having to change their names.

burtonsays:

Have not seen this point made much anywhere else, but there is more than meets the eye to this politician’s threat, and it concerns the proposed new stadium.

All politicians are mesmerized by the concept of legacy. When they decided to spend half a billion pounds on a temporary Olympic stadium, not much attention was paid to any post-closing ceremony usage of the developed area.

Recently one soccer team, west ham, bid to take over the Olympic stadium, and use it in a basically un-altered state. This makes the politicians look good, as their half billion investment was for more than just a two week sports binge.

But then Tottenham Hotspur (a bigger club) also bid for the stadium, with a plan to demolish and replace it with a purpose built stadium (the current running track would be unacceptable to the majority of fans). This makes the politician’s investment look short sighted and plain stupid.

So for sure this is a strange threat, but it should be viewed as part of a semi-coordinated synthetic fuss, designed to anticipate headlines about white elephant capital projects.

(also, I agree with all those above regarding the name change. It isn’t like America, these are not the Hotspurs of Tottenham, who could conceivably be the Hotspurs of someplace ls)

burtonsays:

Have not seen this point made much anywhere else, but there is more than meets the eye to this politician’s threat, and it concerns the proposed new stadium.

All politicians are mesmerized by the concept of legacy. When they decided to spend half a billion pounds on a temporary Olympic stadium, not much attention was paid to any post-closing ceremony usage of the developed area.

Recently one soccer team, west ham, bid to take over the Olympic stadium, and use it in a basically un-altered state. This makes the politicians look good, as their half billion investment was for more than just a two week sports binge.

But then Tottenham Hotspur (a bigger club) also bid for the stadium, with a plan to demolish and replace it with a purpose built stadium (the current running track would be unacceptable to the majority of fans). This makes the politician’s investment look short sighted and plain stupid.

So for sure this is a strange threat, but it should be viewed as part of a semi-coordinated synthetic fuss, designed to anticipate headlines about white elephant capital projects.

(also, I agree with all those above regarding the name change. It isn’t like America, these are not the Hotspurs of Tottenham, who could conceivably be the Hotspurs of someplace else. That’s not how it works, and I’d guess you’d have to relocate in a significantly different area to require any name change. The proposed move is just down the road.)

Idobeksays:

Grandstanding

David Lammy is the MP for Tottenham and he is grandstanding. He has calculated, that if is makes a big enough fuss, he is in a win-win situation. Either Spurs drop the Tottenham name – he wins, or Spurs stay in Tottenham – he wins.

It is probably a moot point as West Ham will win the bid.

However, I can’t imagine that Tottenham’s residents and local council are that happy with David Lammy MP. Spurs are one of the few clubs in Britain which can rebrand very easily and they’ve been looking for a site to build a new stadium for a while now. Why would Spurs stay in Tottenham now? They aren’t being made to feel welcome.

On a side note: I’m sure someone can correct me if I’m wrong, and/or if the boundaries have changed at some point, but Everton F.C. haven’t been located in Everton since… they were founded (I was about to write 1892 but they used to play at Anfield).

Jamessays:

In English football people identify Tottenham Hotspur FC more as, “Tottenham” than “Hotspur FC” which is what the club was originally called when they were founded. It was in later years when Tottenham was added to the name. Despite this though nearly everyone calls them Tottenham and makes no mention of Hotspur so I am not surprised they would be wanting to keep the name.

Burton is correct in what he says about the political nature of it all.

Snidelysays:

Happens in the US too...

Keeping your connection to a cooler place is typical in the US. All those NY teams are actually the New Jersey Giants, Jets, Nets. Also, Ed Rendell when he was mayor of Philadelphia threatened to ban the Sixers from using the Philadelphia name if they relocated to Camden and that’s just across the river. The Sixers stayed in Phila so nothing ever happened, but it’s basically the same thing as this MP is doing.

Ambivalent 'bout Techsays:

Aren't we looking at the "place" number upside down

It’s fairly easy to understand a team named for a large area (like New York City) keeping its name if it moves around in the general metropolitan area. What seems odd is a team named for a very localized area (like Tottenham) moving to another area that no one considers to be the “Tottenham metropolitan area.” Moving the team (nick)name makes sense. That (at least in the U.S.) is the real brand. It can lead to ridiculous new names (Utah Jazz after moving from New Orleans; but at least we don’t have the insanity of the New Orleans Jazz playing in Salt Lake City), but all of the records and history follow the nickname (or whatever you call the part of the name not associated with a place). Seems to me that Hotspur F.C. (the Spurs) should be able to move wherever they want and either take on another name linked to the new area or just make a go of it without a placename in their title.

British vs. American Football

Of course, you have to realize that most British Football clubs are equivalent, not to American professional teams, but to American college teams, or even American high school teams. In most American states, there are at least two state universities, one of which is much more working-class than the other. For example, in Texas, there is the University of Texas, in Austin, the state capital, and there is Texas A&M (Agricultural and Mechanical), in College Station. The latter are known as “aggies,” and there is a whole genre of Aggie jokes, about their supposed stupidity. The same thing is true in nearly every other state, between the Gentleman’s school and the Farmer’s school. So, when the University of X and X State University play each other, the result is a kind of social grudge match, similar to what happens when, say the Glasgow [protestant] Rangers and [catholic] Celtics play. It is not unknown for a dormitory to get burned down on the night after a football game.

Alternatively, if a given American city has a college team and a professional team, or two college teams playing in different leagues, they will probably have very different audience demographics. A common basis of political disputes is that one publicly-funded state university refuses to play another publicly-funded state university, and their respective factions in the state legislature begin arguing.

To Snidely, #30

I used to live in Philadelphia myself. Benjamin Franklin famously defined New Jersey as “a keg tapped at both ends,” by which he meant that it is a state without an identity, part of it being de-facto part of New York, and part of it being de-facto part of Pennsylvania. Of course, in his day, the easiest method of transportation was to get in a boat and row, or even sail, along or across the Hudson River or the Delaware River. So it really doesn’t mean anything if a New York team has a stadium in New Jersey. Lots of people who work in New York, and think of themselves as New Yorkers, live in New Jersey. I would add that Philadelphia mayor Ed Rendell was equally exercised about people going west into suburban Delaware County to do their business.

Wimbledon tried it...

… and it didn’t work.

In August 2001, the club announced its intent to relocate to Milton Keynes. Despite opposition from the majority of Wimbledon fans, The Football League and The Football Association, it was given permission to do so by an independent commission on 28 May 2002, causing the foundation of a new club by supporters against the move, AFC Wimbledon, to which most fans switched their allegiance. Goalkeeping coach Stuart Murdoch was promoted to manager, and as attendances plummeted, Murdoch’s team finished tenth during the club’s last full season at Selhurst Park. Wimbledon entered administration in June 2003, and played their first match in Milton Keynes in September.Although crowds improved at the club’s new base, the administrator sold any player who could command a transfer fee and Murdoch’s team finished bottom. The club was brought out of administration at the end of the season,and subsequently rebranded as Milton Keynes Dons.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wimbledon_F.C.#Foundation_of_AFC_Wimbledon.2C_relocation_and_rebranding

No need for legal measures. The fans will vote with their feet.

Ambivalent 'bout Techsays:

Cleveland keeping the "Browns" name

Cleveland may have tried to sue Modell, but the Oakland Raiders and other teams had already clearly demonstrated that an owner can move his team (and its name) now matter what the city or the league wants. Modell voluntarily left the Browns name behind. The NFL kept the name in an informal “trust” and awarded it (and all the history associated with it) to the expansion franchise that was awarded to Cleveland a few years are the original Browns left for Baltimore. That’s quite a sacrifice for someone who owned the team during some of its glory years. I suppose the Hotspurs owner could leave the name and history “in trust” to the English Football Association and start with a new locality name and nickname starting only with the players and managers from the old team — starting an entirely new “brand” like Modell did. Kind of high risk, though.

It's All About Tradition and Identity

As one poster here pointed out it’s all about tradition and identity. People in the UK don’t just identify a brand by where it’s currently based. But also where it came from. And very often where you’ve come from in the UK is much more important than where you are right now or indeed where you’re going or want to be.

This is sometimes best demonstrated by politicians. Very seldom do they talk about their ambitions when trying to garner the respect of ordinary people. Instead they will talk about their past. If they came from dirty poor working class roots then that is guaranteed to be trotted out on every TV talk show they appear on.

Another dimension to take into account is the fact that football teams in the UK aren’t just businesses. They are part of the community never originally conceived as a business. The business element is very much a recent development of the later half of the 20th century in clubs that have existed since the 1800s. So as though the move it’s self wasn’t bad enough. Ditching the name would be like abandoning their core community fan base or dishonouring the past achievements of the club and all the people involved.

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