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Cleveland Guardians roller derby team sues baseball team over rebranding

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The Cleveland Guardians roller derby team is suing to prevent the baseball team from changing their name. Why did it even have to get to this point?

Cleveland Indians Announce Name Change to Cleveland Guardians Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

The Cleveland Guardians roller derby team has filed a federal lawsuit to stop Cleveland’s baseball team from rebranding as the Guardians, as first reported by WKYC.

The suit wishes to stop the renaming of the baseball team to the Guardians on the grounds that there cannot be two sports teams with the same name in the same city, and that Major League Baseball would never allow the reverse to happen. Also on the grounds that they would like some money, probably a lot of it.

Two sports teams in the same city cannot have identical names. Major League Baseball would never permit “Chicago Cubs” lacrosse or “New York Yankees” rugby teams to operate alongside its storied baseball clubs and rightly so. Confusion would otherwise result. Imagine seeing a “New York Yankees” shirt for sale and buying it. Which team did you just support?

The suit alleges that such confusion would harm their operations if they were to continue as the “Cleveland Guardians” roller derby team. In their included examples, they have already received numerous messages from people attempting to contact the baseball team, which is still listed as the “Cleveland Indians” across social media.

At its core, the suit alleges that the baseball team filed their “Guardians” trademark in secret to catch the roller derby team off-guard in an attempt to get the naming rights, then low-balled the roller derby team in their buyout attempt, refused to negotiate further, and went ahead with the rebranding anyway. And now that there would potentially be two “Guardians” in town, they will not be able to operate without mass confusion and chaos in the streets of Cleveland, Ohio, USA.

I think it’s fair to say that the baseball team filed their trademark in Mauritius, an island nation off the coast of Africa, to keep the new name secret for marketing purposes and not just to catch anyone sleeping at the wheel. But the fact that they still haven’t found a way to pay off a non-profit roller derby team to avoid this easily-preventable PR mess sure is something.

The lawsuit claims that Gary Sweatt, the Guardians’ principal owner, was in contact with the baseball team’s lawyers as early as June 10, 2021 to discuss the potential of a name change. A week later, the team requested images of how Sweatt was using the Guardians name, including logos and uniforms, which he promptly returned. Five days later, after allegedly giving it some thought, the suit claims he contacted the baseball team and requested a buyout of the “Cleveland Guardians” name, including the clevelandguardians.com domain name, if they wished to proceed.

Allegedly, this was the point where the baseball team produced their “unreasonable” offer of “likely no more than fifteen minutes of annual team revenue”, which was rejected and counter-offered. The lawsuit claims that the baseball team never responded to their counter. For what it’s worth, the lawsuit estimates “annual revenues of $290M+” — which would mean the offer of “likely no more than fifteen minutes” was around $8,000 based on some napkin math. According to one of the attorneys for the roller derby team, they were offered “an amount that was just four figures.”

The lawsuit states that negotiations over a buyout have “broke down” as of Tuesday, which prompted today’s lawsuit.

The Cleveland Guardians have attempted several times to negotiate with the Indians to resolve this dispute. Those talks, which began right after the July 23 announcement, broke down on October 26, 2021. Plaintiff is therefore bringing this action to stop Defendantfrom stealing the CLEVELAND GUARDIANS name and trampling on Plaintiff’s rights.

As of this writing, the baseball team has not issued a statement regarding the filing.

Bottom line is this is unlikely to slow anything down. The roller derby team has not played a game since 2018, and while they registered the “Cleveland Guardians” name with the state of Ohio in 2017, they do not have a formal trademark of the name. The baseball team wouldn’t have moved this far forward without believing they could stamp out this kind of opposition and still get merchandise out the door and new jerseys on players in time for the 2022 season. But the question remains: How in the world did we get to this point?

Just pay the damn roller derby team already.