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Two weeks ago, the New Orleans Hornets selected Kentucky’s Anthony Davis with the first overall pick in the NBA draft. Davis is known for his scoring and shot-blocking ability and, most unusually, for his unibrow.
Shortly after signing with his agent, Davis’ team promptly moved to trademark the use of Davis’ brow and several phrases that use it.
Since his rise to fame at Kentucky, Davis has seen outsiders profit from Kentucky blue merchandise emblazoned with “Fear the Brow,” “Brow Down” and other creative designs. Davis, as an amateur, wasn’t allowed to profit from any of that, but he wants to now.
Davis’ hirsute facial qualities are a unique case, but it’s quite common for athletes to file for trademarks. Usually these are nicknames, catchphrases or personal logos. If you’ve heard an athlete repeat it on TV, he’s probably trademarked it and is looking to keep any profit from use.
It’s about branding, which increases your value to marketers. Here are a few of my favorite non-unibrow trademarks from the sports world:
• Fab Five: Jalen Rose owns the mark for this nickname for the legendary Michigan basketball squad.
• “You cannot be serious”: John McEnroe, from his tirades at chair umpires.
• Skyhook: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar trademarked his hook shot.
• “Let’s Get Ready To Rumble!”: Michael Buffer, who has made $400 million licensing this to video games, commercials, merchandise, music and more. He charges $5 million to say it live at an event.
• “That’s a clown question, bro”: Former Harrisburg Senator Bryce Harper’s bizarre reply to reporter’s inquiry went viral, even being used by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Now being sold on Under Armor shirts.
Anyone with about $400 can apply for a trademark, as long as the marks are not deceptive, cause confusion with another trademark or are too generic.
It’s become more important than ever now, with the Internet establishing a platform for creating and disseminating catchphrases and nicknames. It also offers an opportunity for unrelated operations to easily sell merchandise and for “cyber-squatters” who will try to snap up internet properties.
Legendary NBA coach Pat Riley set the stage for this. Riley trademarked the phrase “three-peat” when he expected the Lakers to win their third straight NBA championship in 1989. The Lakers ended up getting swept by the Pistons, and Riley thought he lost out on his opportunity.
In an incredible turn of events, Riley’s rival Bulls achieved three straight championships just four years later, and Riley collected royalties as he licensed the phrase for use on Bulls merchandise.
He licensed the phrase three more times in subsequent years, again with the Bulls, then with the Yankees and Lakers.
For all of the trademarking, I couldn’t find any evidence of some of sports’ most famous sayings – the famous “Yogiisms.”