After decades of Saints fans chanting "Who Dat?" at games, the National Football League, in its infinite wisdom, has started sending cease-and-desist letters to business owners in New Orleans, telling them to stop selling "Who Dat?" merchandise as it infringes on NFL trademarks. Nominally, the issue is with the black-and-gold colors and the fleur de lis. The NFL may have a point on those two (of course, it can't claim trademark of every fleur de lis, can it?), but now fans and media outlets are reporting that it's going after the phrase itself.
While #NFLfail hasn't become a trending topic on Twitter (yet), there are no fewer than six Facebook groups telling the NFL exactly where it can stick its trademark.
NFL spokesman Dan Masonson trotted out this howler: "Any unauthorized use of the Saints colors and other [marks] designed to create the illusion of an affiliation with the Saints is equally a violation of the Saints trademark rights because it allows a third party to 'free ride' by profiting from confusion of the team's fans, who want to show support for the Saints."
Yes. They're doing it all for the poor fans, who may be confused and become unable to support the Saints. That's like the BCS claiming with a straight face that fans don't really want a playoff system for college football.
But good work, NFL. Nothing like being a fair-weather owner, caring about a phrase that's been in the public domain for over a hundred years only when the team makes it to the Super Bowl. Even if the phrase wasn't in the public domain, someone else long ago actually went through the trouble of trademarking the actual phrase "Who Dat?" That would be Sal and Steve Monistere of WhoDat Inc. So, you know, nice try, NFL.
Even better is that in one statement, the NFL claimed to be protecting small businesses. What's particularly rich about this is none other than Drew Brees has come out against the NFL in its relentless pursuit of
trying to crush small businesses "protecting" its trademarks. In a piece written for the Washington Post (let's see Peyton Manning do that!), Brees sided against the league in the Supreme Court case of American Needle vs. NFL, in which the league stuck it to both small business and fans with its exclusive merchandise deal with Reebok. As Brees pointed out, "The NFL-Reebok deal is worth a lot of money, and fans pay for it: If you want to show support for your team by buying an official hat, it now costs $10 more than before the exclusive arrangement."
Not content with winning a lower-court case, the NFL "asked the Supreme Court to dramatically expand the ruling and determine that the teams act as a single entity not only for marketing hats and gear, but for pretty much everything the league does. It was an odd request -- as if I asked an official to review an 80-yard pass of mine that had already been ruled a touchdown."
That would be crazy. As would stirring up a big pot of nasty publicity for yourself during the biggest game of the year.