No run on ‘Redskins’ Collectibles since Patent Office Canceled Team Name Copyright
This Washington Redskins vintage embossed metal sign is a new piece of memorabilia, complete with the team’s copyrighted name and logo. When the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office canceled six trademarks belonging to the Washington franchise, people in the sports collecting world wondered if there would be a run on items like this, speculating the team may eventually change its name and stop making collectibles. So far, fans are not worried about the supply of merchandise.
When the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office canceled six trademarks belonging to the Washington Redskins football organization in mid-June, saying they are offensive to Native Americans, those in the sports collectibles world started wondering if the ruling would spark a run on Redskin collectibles. A month later, the answer is a resounding no.
I called around to a few sports collectibles and memorabilia shops in the Metro D.C. area to ask if there has been a greater demand for items bearing the teams’ controversial name. There hasn’t. Furthermore, regardless of the ruling, fans of Washington’s NFL franchise don’t believe the name will change in the first place and have not begun hoarding items with the challenged team designation.
Brian Aguiar, who manages Hall of Fame Cards & Collectibles in Potomac, Md., says that while his customers have been talking about the possible name change—team’s owner Daniel Snyder is digging in his heels and saying the team’s name will remain the same—no one is buying up extra collectibles with the name on it.
“If the name does change, who knows what’s going to happen,” said Aguiar. “I’m sure some people will be looking for the old Redskins stuff, but most people will be supporting the team, regardless of the name. The players are still going to be there. It not like they’re getting rid of team with the name and a new team, whatever it’s called, will be different players.
“Fans will support the new team, maybe begrudgingly, but they will support the new team,” Aguiar added.
Which gets us to the crux of this collectibles question: do fans collect the team or the player? And if they collect the team, does the team’s name matter, or is it the team’s history in a particular city during a particular year more important? In general, Washington football fans want items connected to players, be it Sam Huff, Sonny Jurgenson, Art Monk or Robert Griffin III. Collectors want items connected to important moments or classic games and the name of the team isn’t really necessary. A game-worn jersey is going to be coveted whether it has the team name on it or not.
This Robert Griffin III unwashed, game-worn Washington Redskins NFL Jersey comes from a game played against the Denver Broncos on October 27, 2013. It sold at auction on eBay for $9,999.95 in April of this year.
While it does say “Redskins” in small print underneath the NFL “shield” logo, would it be worth any more if the team was forced to change its name?
A couple of years ago, my kids gave me a football that was autographed by San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Dwight Clark. Underneath his signature are the words “The Catch” and the date, 1-10-82. It doesn’t say “49ers” on it, but I know the connection to my favorite team and one of the greatest plays in NFL history. In fact, if the ball did have the 49ers name or logo on it, I believe it would take away from the piece. As it is, it’s just a regulation NFL football, like one used in the game.
What Does the Ruling Mean?
When the Patent Office canceled the trademarks for the term “Redskins,” it didn’t mean that the Washington franchise had to change its name; it only means that if the ruling is upheld on appeal, anyone could legally print T-shirts or other items with the team name on it, thereby potentially taking a bite out of the NFL’s sizable merchandizing revenue (all 32 NFL teams share this big ol’ profitable pie evenly).
Historically, when teams change their names, it’s because they are moving to a new city and are looking for a new local identity. But it hasn’t happened very often. The only examples I can think of is when the Cleveland Browns moved to Baltimore, the “Browns” moniker—and all of the team’s official records—stayed in Cleveland with the promise of a new franchise there in the future. The new Baltimore team chose a Raven as it mascot in a nod to the title character in Baltimorean Edgar Allan Poe’s famous poem.
Another voluntary name change came in 1995, when the NBA’s Washington Bullets changed their name to the Wizards. Team owner Abe Pollin said at the time he was changing the name because Bullets had acquired violent overtones that had made him increasingly uncomfortable over the years, particularly given the high homicide and crime rate in the early 1990s in Washington, D.C.
This football was autographed by San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Dwight Clark with the words “The Catch” and the date, 1-10-82, underneath. It doesn’t say “49ers” on it, but I know the connection to my favorite team and one of the greatest plays in NFL history.
A Wes Unseld-autograph basketball when he played for the Washington Bullets sold at auction for $99.99 in February of this year on eBay.
Rodney Currence, who co-owns Sports Card Heroes with his brother Rick, located Laurel, Md., says that Bullets collectibles are still popular, but it doesn’t have anything to do with fans’ love of the old team name versus the new one.
“People still love the old Bullets stuff, and it’s highly collectible, but the Wizards, up until this year, there hasn’t been much noise about them because they’ve been terrible,” Currence said. “The Bullets/Wizards organization is nothing compared to the Redskins. But in fairness, this has never been a very strong basketball market.”
A basketball autographed by Wes Unseld—arguably the team’s greatest player—still sells well, usually for about $100. But he’s a local legend and a Hall of Fame member.
Will they Stop Making ‘Redskins’ Items?
Currance said that the thing to watch is whether companies that make the collectibles—such as replica helmets and pennants and such—will continue to produce old-style Redskins items if the team eventually does change its name. He believes they will, because when you look at much of the Redskins collectibles, the word “Redskins” is not usually emblazoned on the item.
“If they are forced to change their name, does that mean Riddell can’t go back and remake old replicas? It doesn’t say ‘Redskins’ on them. Look at the helmets. From 1960 to ’64, it had a feather down the middle of the helmet. From ’65 to ’69 the logo was a spear and feather. In 1970 and ’71, it was an ‘R’ in a circle. Now, it’s the profile. I don’t see why any of them would be effected, even if the team had to change its name,” said Currance.
A replica Washington helmet from the 1960-64 seasons.
A replica Washington helmet from the 1965-69 seasons.
A replica Washington helmet from the 1970-71 seasons.
A replica Washington helmet from the 1992 season.
“It’s when they are autographed, the extra value is the signature,” Currence said. “There is no more value to a Dallas Cowboys helmet than a Tampa Bay Buccaneers helmet; they just sell more of the Cowboys’. When you add a signature, that’s what makes it special.”Besides, Currance added, a helmet is a helmet is a helmet, regardless of the logo or team verbiage. It what’s added to the helmet that makes them valuable.
So, there you have it. If football fans in the Washington area are not rushing out to buy up all the team-labeled memorabilia they can carry, then you probably shouldn’t worry about it either. And while speculation is part and parcel to sports collecting, Currence suggests you don’t bet the house on this proposition.
“I don’t think speculating on Redskins collectibles is a good idea,” he said. “First of all, I don’t think the name is going to be changed in the near future. And if they are forced to change their name, you’ll still be able to get Redskins items.”
Gregory Watkins is the editor of WorthPoint.com You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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