The team formerly known as the Cleveland Indians is being sued over their non-rights to the name “Cleveland Guardians.” The Cleveland Guardians moniker is already trademarked by a roller derby team located in Parma, one of the suburbs of Cleveland. However, that hasn’t stopped Cleveland’s MLB franchise from attempting to take the name anyway.
After months of the two parties negotiating terms, the American League team has just decided to move forward with the name “Guardians” anyway, despite the roller derby team having formally registered the name “Cleveland Guardians” with the Ohio Secretary of State in 2017. The roller derby team also holds the rights to the website clevelandguardians.com, and they have been selling merchandise with the team name and logo since 2014.
According to the federal lawsuit filed against the Cleveland baseball team Wednesday, “A Major League club cannot simply take a smaller team’s name and use it for itself.” The lawsuit continued “There cannot be two ‘Cleveland Guardians’ teams in Cleveland, and, to be blunt, [the Cleveland Guardians roller derby team] was here first.”
As this whole name change debacle has progressed, one thing has become abundantly clear: both sides have handled this situation poorly.
The roller derby team has every right to be upset. There’s a reason they trademarked the ‘Cleveland Guardians’ name — they wanted exclusive rights. Here’s my question though: why can’t there be two Cleveland Guardians teams in the city? Yes, they have the name trademarked, and they have every right to be angered at how the former Indians tried to subvert trademark law, but what’s wrong with the name being shared?
We’ve already seen cities like St. Louis (Cardinals; MLB/NFL), Pittsburgh (Pirates; MLB/NHL), New York (Giants; MLB/NFL), New York again (Yankees; MLB/AFL), Brooklyn (Dodgers; MLB/NFL), and Boston (Braves; MLB/NFL) all promote teams with the same name at the same time. While teams like the NHL’s Pittsburgh Pirates only existed for a few years, their presence is an example of how teams with the same name can co-exist. The baseball Pirates were honored to share the name with another team in Pittsburgh.
Just thinking out loud, the Guardians roller derby team had an opportunity to benefit here. Not only does the name change draw attention to the roller derby team, and probably a lot of traffic to the website, but it would prove that you were able to come up with an incredible name that honors the city you live in before a billion dollar franchise could. You could even start marketing yourselves as “The Original Cleveland Guardians.”
That’s not going to be possible anymore though, as evidenced by the Cleveland Guardians’ statement: “There can’t be two ‘Cleveland Guardians’ teams.” All that can be drummed up from this lawsuit is resentment between both parties involved. Yes, the former Indians may have offended the Guardians when they offered a “nominal amount” of money to buy the rights to the Cleveland Guardians name, but they were willing to negotiate at the very least. You can’t blame the former Indians for wanting to move off that name ASAP after all the public backlash they had been receiving over the name and logo in recent years and their promise to do away with it.
Just because the former Cleveland Indians are a huge and well-known brand compared to the Cleveland Guardians doesn’t mean they can just big-league them however. There are procedures in place for these kinds of situations, and if they really wanted the Guardians’ name that badly, they would’ve ponied up what the roller derby team asked for immediately.
I mean, has the baseball team not realized that they have already dug their own grave? They have already announced that they will be the Cleveland Guardians, so they need to learn to play nice to obtain the rights to the name, or else might be forced to officially become the Cleveland Baseball Team.
It’s clear from the lawsuit that the Guardians were willing to play nice at first too, offering to sell the rights to their name to the former Indians when negotiations started. However, after the former Indians low-balled the Guardians and attempted to circumvent the Guardians’ Ohio state trademark by filing a trademark request in the Republic of Mauritius on April 8 (before negotiations with the Guardians started in July), the Cleveland baseball team can’t be upset that the Guardians became unwilling to cooperate. The former Indians also tried to file two federal trademark applications in July, after having become fully aware of the Guardians’ existence, claiming exclusive rights to the name ‘Cleveland Guardians.’ That’s not right.
Now, because of all the shady dealing done behind the Guardians’ back, the Guardians are asking for a fund equal to what the former Indians spend on advertising and promotions in order to buy “corrective advertising” for the roller derby team should the former Indians continue using the name “Guardians.” You can bet that’s going to cost a lot more than what it would have if the baseball team had just given the roller derby team what they wanted in the first place.
All in all, this lawsuit will likely settle before ever reaching court once the two parties have agreed on a fair price for the rights to the Guardians name. This story will probably end the way it should have three months ago when the former Indians first announced their new team name. If they’d actually given their counterparts the respect they deserved, this story and lawsuit would have never happened.