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5th February 2010

NFL retreats over New Orleans Saints trademark claim

Victory for supporters and T-shirt sellers after league says it will not seek to enforce rights on ‘Who dat?’ slogan

The National Football League has backed away from moves to enforce trademark rights to a popular chant by New Orleans Saints supporters, days before the team competes in the Super Bowl.

The NFL earned widespread derision last month among fans of the Saints, who face the Indianapolis Colts in Sunday’s game, after it sent letters demanding local businesses stop selling T-shirts bearing the slogan “Who dat?”. The phrase is part of the chant “Who dat say dey gonna beat dem Saints”.

The NFL cited a 1988 trademark registered in Louisiana, claiming it had exclusive rights to sell paraphernalia with “Who dat?” on it. The league also asserted ownership of the fleur-de-lis, the ancient symbol of the French monarchy that adorns Saints kit.

In response, Louisiana’s attorney general, James Caldwell, sent a letter to the league defending the right of fans and vendors to the chant, the fleur-de-lis and the black and gold team colours.

Furious fans called into sports talk radio shows to denounce the league as avaricious and accuse officials of trying to lay claim to the city’s unique culture.

Ron Swoboda, a former baseball player and radio sports presenter said: “It amuses me because here you have a bunch of big powerful suits in the NFL, and they’re just going to take these little people to court who might be coming out with a product here and a product there that they’re not going to get rich off of.”

He told the New Orleans Times-Picayune: “Who dat? is something that came from the people here, and in this particular instance, I think they’re going to do a lot more public relations damage than they are going to do themselves monetary good.”

The NFL relented, telling Louisiana officials it would make no more claims on the chant and agreeing to send a letter to vendors informing them. Lawyers for the NFL told Caldwell they intended only to crack down on counterfeit official merchandise.

The NFL, ribbed as the “No Fun League” for its restrictions on player touchdown celebrations, aggressively guards its brand image. In 2005, it forbade fans from buying custom team jerseys with the name “Mexico” on the back, a trend that began after it was alleged in a lawsuit that the star quarterback Michael Vick had received treatment for a sexually transmitted disease under the alias “Ron Mexico”.


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