Next weekend, Major League Baseball will pay homage to little league baseball with a “Players Weekend.” As part of the weekend, players will have a chance to wear special uniforms with their nicknames on the back. Even with the relaxation of the rules, MLB is still playing it cautious with possible trademark infringement issues.
Philly.com reported that at least two Philadelphia Phillies were denied their preferred nicknames because of intellectual property concerns. Phillies pitchers Zach Eflin and Hoby Milner will not be able to wear their preferred nicknames. Eflin wanted “Led Zeflin” which is a play on rock band Led Zeppelin and Milner wanted “Hoby Wan Kenobi,” based on the Star Wars character Obi-Wan Kenobi.
The Texas Rangers’ Adrian Beltre wanted to wear “Kojak” on his jersey. But will not. Notably, the Seattle Mariners closer Edwin Diaz is nicknamed Sugar after the main character in the 2008 baseball movie. His jersey will read “Sugar.” One may assume MLB believes no infringement issue here. Of course, the name of the movie and the nickname here use a common word rather than Led Zeppelin, Obi-Wan or the popular 1970s tv character, Kojak.
The denials were due to concerns over trademark infringement issues with the holders of the mark. Certainly, the apprehension with these nicknames had to do with concerns over whether the mark holders would put up a fight.
A reason for this weekend is to create another avenue for merchandise sales. Jerseys with these nicknames go for $200 each while t-shirts go for $30 each. Despite the lofty prices for the jerseys, fans will purchase some of these jerseys due to the uniqueness of the jersey. It creates another asset for the team to market. It’s a reason why NBA teams have extended the number of jerseys it has in its seasonal rotation.
While some attorneys claim that putting nicknames on the jerseys would not be infringement, there is an argument that there is licensing revenue that the markholders would be losing out on. From a practical standpoint, MLB did not want to bog itself down in a trademark fight on jerseys it would wear for only one weekend.