The Trademarked Fans

By: Stephen DeGrow*

footballThe Seattle Seahawks finished the 2013 football season as Super Bowl champions. And, of course, a lot of the credit belongs to the fans. Throughout the football year, Seattle fans showed their reputation for passion by setting two world records for loudest crowd noise. The most recent record came on December 2, when the crowd clocked in at 137.6 decibels. And now that the NFLShop.com has released jersey sales figures for last season, it appears that Seattle fans put their money where their mouth is.

According to the espn.com and NFLShop.com, the Seattle Seahawks sold more jerseys than any other team in the NFL. In fact, four different Seattle jerseys are in the top ten most selling jerseys. Russell Wilson came in at number one. Not surprising. Marshawn Lynch and Richard Sherman came in at five and six, respectively. Not surprising either. And the fourth Seattle jersey in the top ten? A jersey with the name “FAN” and the number 12 on the back.

The “Fan” jersey is a reference to the phrase “12th Man,” which Seattle uses to refer to its fans. But the Seahawks can’t actually print the famous phrase on merchandise because the “12th Man” is trademarked by Texas A & M University. According to school legend, students began using the phrase in the 1920s after a fan suited up for Texas A&M during a game. The university officially trademarked the phrase in 1990, and now licenses “12th Man” to Seattle for an annual licensing fee. The current licensing agreement expires in 2016, and places several restrictions on the usage of “12th Man.”

beer paintingThe popularity of Seattle and its “12th Man” license has led to attempted uses beyond jerseys. A small brewery near Seattle hoped to sell a beer called “12th Man Skittles IPA” during Super Bowl weekend. The beer combined “Maris Otter malt, Skittles for the sugar, Columbus hops for bittering and Centennial hops for the finish.” The brewer, however, could not sell his “12th man” beer because Texas A & M sent out a cease and desist letter to protect its brand. The brewer was surprised when he got the letter from lawyers, since he only brewed 5.6 gallons. He nonetheless complied with the letter and changed the beer’s name to “Cease & Desist IPA.” Given that Seattle ended up winning the Super Bowl, the brew probably went down very smoothly. Maybe it should’ve been called the “43-8 IPA.”

*Stephen DeGrow is a third-year student at Wake Forest University School of Law and holds a Bachelor of Arts in Economics from Cornell University.