The sports marketing world went briefly to DEFCON 1 on Tuesday after it was revealed that the NFL had applied for a trademark on the name Duluth Eskimos, the professional football team that played for a few years in the ’20s when the game was still developing.
The Eskimos never really played much in Duluth; it was too cold so they were mostly a travel team.
The NFL’s move to trademark the name briefly led to speculation the Minnesota Vikings, perhaps, would play a game or two during the league’s 100th anniversary celebration as the Eskimos, a somewhat problematic decision given that the name is considered derogatory by some people. Not that that’s ever bothered the NFL, of course.
“It would be very odd for the NFL to have put this language in the application and not intend to actually have a team playing underneath this name,” trademark attorney Josh Gerben said on Twitter. “In order for a trademark application to ultimately register you must use the trademark for the services identified in the application.”
The NFL has filed a trademark application for DULUTH ESKIMOS.
The trademark application suggests that a NFL team could play a game as the DULUTH ESKIMOS this coming year.
— Josh Gerben (@JoshGerben) April 30, 2019
But NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy put the damper on the speculation.
“As part of the league’s 100th season, the team will look to celebrate and salute early football in the state of Minnesota,” McCarthy told the Duluth News Tribune. “There are some team plans for promotional and content opportunities.,”
“The Eskimos exhibit is one of the most popular attractions in the Vikings Museum and we want to bring increased awareness to that history throughout the 2019 season,” he also told The Canadian Press.
Unsurprisingly, the “story” picked up steam, passed from website to website that the Vikings would play as the Eskimos, wearing throwback uniforms.
Paul Lukas, perhaps the most informed observer of all things uniform — he writes the UniWatch website — says it should have been obvious from the start that the Vikings weren’t going to be the Eskimos for a day.
While he may be an expert on trademarks, he is not an expert on uniforms. If he were, he would have known about the one-shell rule, and that in turn would have made him much more skeptical about the chances of the Vikings wearing Eskimos throwbacks. I’m not sure it would have changed his ultimate conclusion (he insists that the way the trademark application was worded made it seem like the NFL would be putting a team called the Eskimos on the field, and I’ll have to take his word for that because he knows more about trademark applications than I do), but it at the very least it would have altered his calculus. This lack of expertise in the specific fields and industries from which the trademark applications originate makes it even harder for him (or anyone) to read those tea leaves, and that makes it even more important for him (or anyone) to choose his words with care when publicly assessing those applications.
Lukas said it’s another example of how quickly a false narrative can spread.