Athletes Capitalize on Likeness

In the sports world, many athletes become famous for their skills. Those who perform the best and win the most games receive more notoriety. Fans become attached to these players and want to see them often. These players even draw new fans as they become more famous and continue to play well. However, athletes are generally not in a sport for a lifetime. Due to age, injury, and loss of skills over time, they eventually have to retire. Retirement generally comes earlier for athletes than for professionals from other careers. Therefore, it makes sense for athletes who have become famous for their catchphrases, names, and skills to seek trademarks so others do not capitalize on something they’ve earned themselves.

Some famous athlete trademarks include the following: Tim Tebow’s “Tebowing,” LeBron James’ “King James,” Marshawn Lynch’s “Beast Mode,” Lance Armstrong’s “Livestrong,” Jeremy Lin’s “Linsanity,” and many others. As noted, athletes can trademark catchphrases, names of particular poses, nicknames, and more. Some may use their name in original ways (e.g., Lance Armstrong for Livestrong charity that raises money for cancer). If the athletes don’t trademark these things themselves, then fans and companies may capitalize on them. There have many cases where a fan uses a catchphrase associated with an athlete and tries to sell t-shirts or other products with that catchphrase.

With trademarks, these athletes may be able to negotiate sponsorships, gain revenue, and/or raise awareness for something (such as Armstrong’s cancer charity). By trademarking their names, they can make their brand outlive their actual sports career. For instance, Michael Jordan is still keeping his brand strong years after he retired from basketball. In fact, he recently won a case for the rights to his Chinese name. Furthermore, by applying for trademarks, these athletes can prevent others from misusing their names or leading people to believe they endorse something that they don’t. They can also prevent others from generating revenue based on their likeness.

Athletes who move to trademark their names, likeness, and catchphrases early in the process have more control over the use of these trademarks. Some athletes even start the filing process while still in college. Although they cannot capitalize on those trademarks while still in college, they can prevent others from capitalizing on their likeness. Two such athletes include Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott, both rookies for the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys. Both athletes applied for trademarks while still in college, which has proven to be a smart move. Prescott and Elliott have both had an extremely successful first year in the pros, earning their way into the playoffs. As a result, their catchphrases and nicknames have been displayed and used abundantly by their fans. With such a successful start, they are likely to land more sponsorships and sell more products associated with their trademarks. Since they already applied for trademarks, they can prevent others from exploiting their names and already have a head start on negotiating deals for sponsorships and products. It’s an overall smart strategy. It gives them more recognition both on and off the field, and provides them protection as well as other revenue avenues down the road.