Orange County Trademark Attorney® Blog

Big Money at Stake Over "12th Man" Trademark in Football

February 13, 2014

football.jpgOrange County - Lately, it has been hard to miss the reigning Superbowl Champion Seattle Seahawks' "12th Man" signs, banners and cheers across TV, the internet, and social media. Popular as it may be, the term famously associated with the Seahawks was originally coined by the student body of Texas A&M University, with the school going so far as to federally register the "12th Man" trademark in 1990. Now, with the Seahawk's recent success and accompanying use of the phrase, licensing negotiations between the athletic organizations are heating up.

According to longstanding Texas A&M history, the term "12th Man" came about in 1922 when head football coach Dana X. Bible called an A&M basketball player, E. King Gill, out of the stands to suit up to play. Though Gill never ended up playing a single down for the Aggies, his story carried on for years as from that point on, the student body has referred to themselves as the "12th Man" on the field.

By the early 2000s, when Seattle Seahawks fans regularly began referring to themselves as the 12th Man, Texas A&M took note. In 2006, the university commenced a lawsuit against the Seahawks for trademark infringement. The teams ended up settling, with the Seahawks paying a $100,000 lump sum to Texas A&M for its use of the trademark, along with a five year license, renewable for an additional five year term, at a fee of $5000 per year. That deal included a variety of limitations, including a geographical restraint that prevents the Seahawks from using the term anywhere outside of Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Utah and Washington.

With the deal ending in 2016, several reports are indicating that the Seahawks are already in talks with Texas A&M to ensure extension of the license. Since the original agreement was made before the takeoff of social media, where much of the 12th Man frenzy has taken place, it is unclear how the teams will work out the problem of geography. While Texas A&M has demonstrated its dedication to keeping the trademark in effect in Texas and its surrounding areas, it may be facing a problem of enforceability now that the Seattle 12th man has become so popular.

Additionally, given the current contract's provision prohibiting the Seahawks from using the 12th Man on fan merchandise, if Seattle wishes to really cash in from the 12th Man retail market, they are going to have to pay up. Initial chatter surrounding the settlement discussions put the license renegotiation fee in the six figure range.