The fuss about Who Dat…

REUBEN MAYES RUNNING BACK NEW ORLEANS SAINTSAs a sports fan, you always want to see your team make it to the championship. Just getting to the game is good for community morale as well as local businesses. For fans of the New Orleans Saints, some of this goodwill and joy has lost its luster as the NFL and some members of Louisiana are locked in an ugly PR battle over two words – Who Dat. For those of you that are unfamiliar with the phrase, it has been the rallying cry of the Saints and their fans.  It was also prominently displayed in the Super Dome following their NFC championship win.

Yes, there are other two-word phrases that are much worse, so why the focus on these two? One word answer – trademark – read merchandising. With the Who Dat craze swirling around the state, local shop owners have been hawking shirts with the phrase on it. That was until the NFL sent out cease and desist letters citing a 1988 trademark registered by the Saints. Well those letters have been met with angst from these shop owners and Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal who is looking into pushing a lawsuit against the NFL over the ownership of the phrase.

This is an unfortunate incident for a region that is still looking for recovery and its first Lombardi trophy. With less than a week to the big game, let’s follow the spirit of Arik Hanson’s new series of posts, and offer a solution where both parties come out with a semblance of a smile on their face.

There is no question that the merchandising of the Super Bowl and the teams involved are big business. While I see the business side of maintaining trademarks and profiting from the use of these marks, a public battle with small businesses in this economy does not look good. Why not look to partner with the state and offer a licensing deal for the phrase, with a minor catch. Instead of adding funds to the league war chest, the money raised via any licensing of the phrase would go to charities throughout New Orleans.

An effort like this would not only offset the negative press that has been garnered of late but also help build a stronger community. Imagine the money that could be raised if the Saints were to lift some hardware on Sunday?

What do you think about the situation? Who Dat or Who Not?

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  • Jeff, you know I'm not a sporty gal, but I AM a secret trademark/copyright/fair use law buff. I was not aware that the NFL could trademark catchphrases for the teams; that seems incredibly bizarre to me! Do they trademark all the team slogans? Is “Evil Empire” trademarked? At first blush, it seems unfair to me that the NFL can piggyback-profit off of what looks like spontaneous and rallying fan slogans.

    I like your idea of donating the proceeds from this slogan to charity. A lot of people don't know how devastated the state of LA still is, and this would be a great way for the NFL to do their part.

  • mikeschaffer

    Great breakdown of a terrible situation!

    I understand the NFL's position – you must protect EVERY trademark or else you'll get burned for it down the road. However, if a city that is still publicly recovering from devastation – a major talking point in the road to the Super Bowl – why would they take money out of the rebuilding economy?

    I really like the solution you presented…create a win-win situation and EVERYONE looks good! New Orleans get's their rallying cry and the NFL looks like they are giving money to Katrina recovery.

  • jeffespo

    Glad you like the idea for NOLA, would be nice.

    The NFL's trademark seems to cover the phrase when coupled with the team's colors and other marks. Which I see as a good thing, but also piss poor in some instances. With elected officials chiming in and the league's stance, this is an ugly black eye on a week that should be celebrated.

    Hell if they win it might be one big festival of Dionysus heading into Mardi Gras.

  • jeffespo

    Mike, given my history, I can't help but see the NFL's point. It is big business after all.

    If this were Dallas, D.C., Indy or Green Bay, I wouldn't be getting into the issue. NOLA is still a disaster area economically so it is kind of a school yard bully situation.

    With that said, living in Boston, every shop is selling Boston themed shirts with similar lettering to the Sox, but MLB doesn't try to fight it.

    I'd argue to fight for logo use, but sayings/colors are a stretch.

  • If you want the true WhoDat history, and how WhoDat money IS scheduled to fund a a musician's charity in New Orleans, (and you l like hearing a little Aaron Neville music at the same time), you can go here

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