Updated November 6, 2020:

Sport trademarks are valuable assets that can build confidence, trust, and loyalty to a product. Trademarks let customers recognize the products of a particular business, and they're an essential part of branding. Strong branding can increase prices, customer loyalty, revenue, and growth. They're central to many business transactions, especially sports sponsorship deals and product merchandising, and they can be colors, shapes, sounds, or even smells. For example, Nike's swoosh symbol or Adidas's three stripes make merchandise like shoes, shirts, and jackets more valuable because they guarantee quality. Keep reading for more information about sports trademarks.

The Benefits of Trademarks

Displaying trademarks in prominent places at sporting events can increase sales by appealing to fans of the team. A sport trademark can also be a symbol of a lifestyle or behavior. Sponsoring a prestigious sporting event like the Olympic Games can link your company or product to the sport, the event, and even the athletes who compete in it. Intellectual property rights also let sports celebrities, teams, organizations, and manufacturers protect themselves from abusive and unauthorized uses of their names. Sporting event organizers protect their sport trademarks by:

  • Maintaining the value and integrity of the event
  • Maximizing revenue from sponsorship, licensing, and merchandising agreements
  • Inspiring confidence among consumers about the authenticity and quality of a brand

Many sports stars generate significant earnings from their own brands as elite athletes and from sponsorship deals with other brands. In most countries, trademarks are added to a national trademark register for extra protection.

Some Examples of Sport Trademarks 

When a quote from a news conference or a postgame interview becomes popular among fans or when an athlete thinks it could be valuable in the future, it's registered as a trademark. Some athletes trademark their names, and the USPTO or United States Patent and Trademark Office usually rules against others using terms that include a person's name or image, even if another entity registered for a trademark before the athlete. To trademark any phrase, a registrant must show that it can be used in commerce to identify his or her brand or team.

Urban Meyer, a high-profile Ohio State coach, has pursued legal protection of his name and image. However, Ohio State secured limited rights from Meyer to use his name, voice, image, and likeness in connection for some endeavors. Meyer can still use his likeness to help charities or to pursue business opportunities that don't conflict with Ohio State's business interests.

Tim Tebow trademarked "Tebowing," Jeremy Lin trademarked "Linsanity," and Manny Ramirez trademarked "Manny Being Manny." In 1988, when he was coaching the Los Angeles Lakers, Pat Riley applied for a trademark on the term "three-peat" and received about $300,000 in royalties when the Chicago Bulls got a three-peat. Jared Allen has a trademark on "Got Strange?" and his signature camouflage hunting and rodeo apparel were listed as protected merchandise on the application. In 2012, Robert Griffin III, a player for the Washington Redskins, filed for seven trademarks:

  • "RGIII"
  • "RG3"
  • "Robert Griffin III"
  • "Unbelievably Believable"
  • "Go Catch Your Dream"
  • "Light You Up"
  • "Work Hard Stay Humble"
  • "No Pressure No Diamonds"
  • "Dream Big Live Bigger"

In 2012, a reporter asked Bryce Harper what kind of beer he usually celebrated with after a game. The Washington Nationals outfielder replied with, "That's a clown question, bro," and the simple phrase started trending on Twitter. It was so popular that Harper filed for a trademark the next day. Roger Mayweather, a trainer and former boxer, applied for a trademark for "Black Mamba" in 2014 because it's been used as his nickname for years.

Rod Smart played in the Canadian Football League, the NFL, and the XFL. During his time in the XFL with the Las Vegas Outlaws, he used the nickname "He Hate Me." He put it on the back of his jersey and eventually had it trademarked. Terrell Owens trademarked the phrase, "I love me some me," and the application listed cups, restaurants, and clothing as intended uses.

Trademarking your phrase, slogan, nickname, signature, pose, or logo keeps other companies or individuals from making a profit from it and increases your intellectual property rights.

If you need help with sport trademarks, you can post your legal need or post your job on UpCounsel's marketplace. UpCounsel accepts only the top 5 percent of lawyers to its site. Lawyers on UpCounsel come from law schools such as Harvard Law and Yale Law and average 14 years of legal experience, including work with or on behalf of companies like Google, Menlo Ventures, and Airbnb.