NFL Sends C&D To University Of Houston Over Homage To The Oilers’ Uniforms
from the no-fun-league dept
One of the longest standing jokes in professional sports is labeling the NFL, or National Football League, the No Fun League, instead. This typically has to do either with the way the league has legislated a lot of what fans love about the game off the field in the name of player safety, which isn’t a horrible thing, or the way it also has tried to control exuberant player behavior on the field, which is generally lame. But the NFL is the No Fun League in Techdirt-ian ways as well, as a short review of our posts on the league will demonstrate. The league is one of the most voracious trademark defenders, or bullies, out there. And not just for its insane game of make believe the league plays when it comes to its trademark rights for the Super Bowl, but in general.
Which brings us to the University of Houston football team, which decided to have a little fun and wear uniforms that were an homage, though not an exact replica, or the old Houston Oilers team that eventually became the Tennessee Titans.
The Cougars caught the ire of the NFL’s merchandising and licensing division for wearing light blue uniforms in the season opener vs. UTSA on Sept. 2. UH said the uniforms were a tribute to the city’s football history, but the NFL saw the jerseys as “blatant copying” of the old Houston Oilers uniforms.
As a result, the NFL wants Houston to “discontinue all sales of merchandise and remove any promotional campaign or social media posts that feature the popular light blue, or Columbia blue, with red stripes color scheme and design,” the Houston Chronicle reported.
Now, as the article goes on to note, the Oilers left Houston nearly three decades ago, though the Titans do still wear the old Oilers uniforms as a throwback jersey and still hold trademarks for all kinds of Oilers branding, including the old uniforms. Here’s the thing though: UH isn’t doing much of what the NFL demands it stop doing. It isn’t selling any merch with the homage uniforms. It didn’t refer to the Oilers at all in any promotional or social media messaging, instead opting to refer to Houston’s football history.
Even the demand that the university cease using “similar” uniforms is legally dubious. This is trademark law we’re talking about, after all. The typical primary question is simply whether the public is going to be confused as to any ownership or affiliation of the school with the NFL. That obviously isn’t going to be a thing in this case. UH fans are going to know damned well that the school has nothing to do with the NFL.
Houston did not reference the Oilers when it revealed the uniforms — which are a slightly different shade of blue — in the lead-up to the season opener. Additionally, UH has not sold merchandise as part of the uniform drop.
Still, the NFL considered the uniforms to be an unauthorized use of the Oilers’ branding.
Even if we took the NFL’s view on the matter, there would still be nothing stopping it from working out some sort of cheap arrangement to let UH celebrate the city’s history within the sport of football in order to let this move forward. It didn’t have to play legal bully if it didn’t want to.
But then I guess we’d have to figure out what the “N” would stand for instead of “no.”
Filed Under: homage, houston, houston oilers, trademark
Companies: nfl, university of houston