The Cleveland Indians’ pursuit of a new brand will balance business and public relations considerations with legal restraints. A new survey highlights that dynamic.
In an email sent to fans on Tuesday, the team asked for completion of a brief survey that sought “feedback about our brand and our team.”
The survey consisted of check-box, multiple-choice and fill-in-the-blank questions seeking information about the respondent, including age, gender and number of children at home. It also attempted to gauge degree of fandom, recent ticket-purchasing history and attitude towards the team’s decision to trade “Indians” for a name to be named later.
To that end, the survey asked respondents for their “initial reaction” about the team’s decision last December to change names, with five choices ranging from “full support” to “complete disagreement.” The survey also requested respondents name three teams that reflected a “good name,” and tasked them with identifying “the most important attributes that a new name should convey.” This objective required checking boxes in any or all of the following categories: fierce; uniting; friendly; inclusive; industrial; loyal; hard-working; strong and resilient. The survey also asked whether support of the team hinges on the team’s choice of name.
Respondents were requested to express their feelings—ranging from extremely positive to extremely negative—on Cleveland’s present and future, the history of the club and the sport of baseball. Color and design of players jerseys were also weighed, such as whether the red/midnight navy/white color scheme should be “definitely kept, consider keeping, take it or leave it, consider scrapping or definitely scrap.”
The survey is only a piece of a multi-stage process for selecting a new identity. A rebrand, as the Washington Football Team’s recent change from Washington Redskins illustrates, necessitates operational changes. The process includes revised marketing strategies to maximize the odds that fans will embrace the new name and any accompanying properties, such as logos, jerseys and insignia. A successful name change would also enhance efforts to sell officially licensed apparel and merchandise.
One interesting feature of the Indians’ survey is how it handled fan-submitted suggestions for replacement names. The survey stressed that its questions do not consist of “a request, opportunity or space to submit specific suggestions for a new name.” The survey also stated the club “will not require or consider specific-name submissions,” adding the “legal and operational aspects of selecting and securing a new name are extremely challenging.”
The Indians are already familiar with these challenges. Several possibilities for a replacement name—including Cleveland Baseball Team, Cleveland Baseball Club, Cleveland Spiders, Cleveland Warriors, Cleveland Slam and Cleveland Squires—are, a Sportico analysis finds, subjects of ongoing trademark applications with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Those applications don’t bar the Indians from pursuing the same name. They can be challenged before the USPTO, too. However, these applications complicate the search and might lead to expense and delay.
Mindful of these intellectual property law considerations, the survey contained waiver language. This language attempted to prevent possible legal issues if a fan suggested a name and the team later picked it (regardless of whether the team ever noticed or contemplated the suggestion).
“Should you submit a name suggestion,” the survey explained, “you (1) represent and warrant that you are the sole owner and creator of the content you submit, including but not limited to all concepts, ideas, images, trademarks, copyrights, and other intellectual property, and (2) for good and valuable consideration . . . irrevocably grant, transfer, and convey to the Cleveland Indians, free and clear of any and all liens and encumbrances, all of your right, title, and interest in [the suggestion]”.
The Indians, which have used that name since 1915, permit fans to participate in the new name search at MLB.com/CLETeamName.