UH Expert: Impact of Patent Office Ruling on the Washington Redskins Brand

Marketing Professor Jaqueline Kacen is an Expert on Brand Equity

KacenJaqueline Kacen, clinical professor at UH’s C.T. Bauer College of Business, is available to media to discuss today’s decision’s impact on the Washington Redskins brand.  The U.S. Patent Office ruled that the National Football League’s Washington Redskins’ name is “disparaging of Native Americans.” The decision, which can be appealed, cancels the trademark registrations of the organization.

Professor Kacen is am expert on brand equity and issues. She is a member of the editorial review board of The Journal of Advertising and her papers have been published in the Journal of Business Research, Journal of Consumer Psychology, British Journal of Mathematical and Statistical Psychology, Marketing Intelligence and Planning, and Advances in Consumer Research. Here research interests include impulse buying, consumer moods and gender issues in marketing. 

What does the ruling mean to the team and the NFL if the ruling is upheld and the trademark/logo is no longer protected?

The ruling means neither the team or, more importantly, the NFL, can prevent others from using the name and logo. This will negatively impact NFL and team revenues. The NFL has been aggressive in protecting its copyrights and trademarks.  It generated about $8 billion in revenue in 2010 from licensing fees from television networks and advertisers. In 2010, revenue from NFL-licensed merchandise was $2.1 billion. For the year 2013-2014, NFL Players Inc. (NFLPI) licensees generated retail sales exceeding $1 billion from sales of licensed products from online and traditional retail outlets.

So, if the ruling is upheld, anyone could use the team’s logo?

Loss of trademark protection means the team and NFL no longer control the brand image. Current NFL-licensed product categories include men’s, women’s and youth game jerseys and t-shirts, player murals, figurines, matted and framed photos, bobbleheads, drinkware, jewelry, electronic device accessories, among others. With the loss of trademark protection, the name and logo can appear on ANYTHING.  Advertisers, manufacturers, retailers, and individuals can use the name and logo freely in any way they so choose (positively or negatively). This can lead to an erosion of brand equity (and possibly some unfortunate/embarrassing uses of the team name and logo). 

How is the Redskins team and brand value quantified?

Brand equity, and the value of the brand, will decrease.  According to Forbes magazine, the value of the Redskins team was $1.7 billion as of August 2013, of which $145 million was the brand (8.4 percent). Brand equity is influenced by customer perceptions about the brand, specifically, consumer attitudes about positive brand attributes and favorable consequences of brand use (see attached article on brand equity).   When there are too many negative associations with a brand, people stop “buying” the brand.   

What can you say about public opinion in this case?

The ruling is a strong signal that “public opinion” in support for keeping the name and logo is eroding. Dan Synder, the owner of the Redskins, cites the team’s “81-year history” as a reason to keep the name.  Brand heritage is important, but if the brand develops negative connotations, smart companies adapt to the changing marketplace.