Column: Vegas Golden Knights not so golden
One of the most ballyhooed — and important — events in the birth of a sport franchise is the public unveiling of a team’s name and logo. The adage, “you only get one opportunity to make a great first impression” applies. Unfortunately, the Las Vegas expansion franchise in the National Hockey League (NHL) couldn’t have bungled that opportunity more if they had tried.
On Nov. 22, Bill Foley, the owner of the team, unveiled the nickname and logo to a group of media, fans and dignitaries. To say the name “Golden Knights” received a lukewarm reception would be an understatement. Sin City’s first Major League team in any sport made no effort to identify with the locals. The name has absolutely no connection to Las Vegas. In addition, the name is hardly unique. The U.S. Army quickly expressed concern based on their use of the name for their Parachute Team.
In addition to the Army, a number of colleges use the name Golden Knights for their sports teams, including Clarkson University in Potsdam, New York. Kelly Chezum, the school’s Vice President for External Relations, said the University entered into a “coexistent agreement” with Foley earlier this year. Chezum didn’t indicate whether that agreement included compensation.
But those hiccups were merely the tip of the iceberg for Foley and the Golden Knights. Two weeks after the press conference the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) denied the team’s request to register the name and logo. The attorney examining the application cited potential confusion with the College of Saint Rose in Albany, New York, which also uses the name Golden Knights. “In this case, the marks are identical in part, sharing the same dominant wording and overall impression,” the USPTO said. As such, “there is confusion between the applicants’ and registrant’s marks.”
David Alexander, Assistant Athletic Director for Communications at the College of Saint Rose, said the school’s logo was registered in 2004. When asked how the school planned to react if the Vegas team pursued its application to use the same nickname and logo, Alexander responded with a hockey expression, even though, unlike Clarkson, the College of Saint Rose doesn’t field a hockey team. “It’s only the first period,” he said. “I don’t want to get too far ahead.” That’s a good tact for the school to take. Unfortunately, it’s the same one that Foley took when he should have done exactly the opposite.
Even if Foley and his team of executives weren’t diligent enough to do their homework prior to announcing the team’s name and logo, you’d think the NHL would have. Sad to say, that wasn’t the case. The NHL participated in the filing with the USPTO. NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly didn’t seem embarrassed by the oversight, nor was he overly concerned by the USPTO’s action. He said the league would formally respond by a June 7 deadline and referenced a number of other nicknames that co-exist between college and professional sports team. Of course, he’s right. But in none of those situations are the logos as similar as Vegas’ and the College of Saint Rose.
Alexander went on to say, “We have a registered trademark. We love the name. Fifteen years ago we redesigned the logo and wanted a trademark to specifically protect our brand.” Good move on the part of the college. Branding isn’t only about selling merchandise, although that’s certainly a part of it. The goal of branding is to establish and promote a particular image. It’s how others perceive you. You want fans, sponsors and the media to think of you in a way that motivates them to cheer for you, support you and respect you. Projecting competence - something the Vegas team failed to do - is also part of your brand.
It’s highly likely that Vegas will receive approval to register their name and logo, with the support of the College of Saint Rose.
Last year the school laid off faculty and administrators after incurring an operating loss of $4 million the previous year. Sounds like the conditions exist for a deal.
The Vegas team doesn’t begin playing until next season. Maybe by then they will have figured out how to act like a big league team.
If not, their future on the ice may be no more successful than their birth.
The author is a former attorney, CPA, Minor League Baseball team owner and current investor in MiLB teams.
He is a Professor in and Chair of the Sport Management Department at SUNY Cortland and maintains the blog: http://sportsbeyondthelines.com The opinions contained in this column are the author’s. Jordan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.