Is the N.F.L. More Feared Than the U.S. Government?

That’s the question I’m asking myself today. I’ve spent the past couple of days in Washington D.C. for Book Expo America. My five-year-old son is a football fanatic, so whenever I’m in a town with an N.F.L. team, I try to bring home a souvenir for him. Today, I went to a huge souvenir store in D.C., with thousands of shirts, hats, keychains, etc. There was a great variety of very very cheap shirts and hats sporting the logos of the F.B.I., the C.I.A., the President of the United States, Air Force One, etc. But there didn’t seem to be a single item of Washington Redskins paraphernalia. I asked at the counter and got a kind of fishy eye and then a brusque shake of the head. Which made me wonder: did the clerk think that, perhaps, I was from the N.F.L.’s licensing division and was trying to find out if she had any unlicensed Redskins stuff? It didn’t seem to make sense that the store wouldn’t carry any Redskins paraphernalia — they had everything else you could imagine, including shirts for the Washington Nationals and the Georgetown Hoyas. I know, I know, it’s baseball season and not football season, but still, the Nationals are a new and terrible team while the Redskins are a venerable and good team. And this didn’t look like a store that rotated its stock very often. So this made me think: is it possible that stores like this (and/or their suppliers) are not afraid of selling knockoff U.S. Government merchandise or knockoff MLB merchandise but that they are afraid of selling knockoff NFL merchandise? Is it possible that the N.F.L. is more feared, even in Washington, than the U.S. Government?


xian

Was there any Washington Wizards merchandise? If not, the shop may have just carried Nats items along with the government apparel you mentioned. However, you do raise an interesting (yet very speculative) point.

jw

Mr. Dubner,

The NFL is the best marketed entertainment product today. Movie ticket sales are down, baseball attendance is lower, and the NHL can not get a TV contract outside of OLN. But the NFL is at an all time high with franchise worth and TV contracts approaching the billion dollar mark.

I absolutely loved "Freakonomics" and if Mr. Leavitt would ever do an economic analysis of professional sports (if he hasn't already) I would be very interested in reading it.

I would love to see a prisoner's dilemma game theory analysis of why Houston passed on Reggie Bush. Or how Matt Leinart went from a potential #1 last year to a number 10 pick this year.

Jemaleddin

The real issue is that the logos of the federal government are in the public domain. There's nothing illegal about selling "knock-off" FBI merchandise.

jglickman

Or perhaps they were just sold out... lol

MikeWas

I had to go look it up - it actually is a distinct federal crime to use the initials "FBI" in certain ways, but apparently not for clothing:

...knowingly uses the words “Federal Bureau of Investigation” or the initials “F.B.I.”, or any colorable imitation of such words or initials, in connection with any advertisement, circular, book, pamphlet or other publication, play, motion picture, broadcast, telecast, or other production, in a manner reasonably calculated to convey the impression that such advertisement, circular, book, pamphlet or other publication, play, motion picture, broadcast, telecast, or other production, is approved, endorsed, or authorized by the Federal Bureau of Investigation;

Source: U.S. Code, Title 18, §709
http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/html/uscode18/usc_sec_18_00000709----000-.html

There are other statutes governing impersonation, and such. Exercise for the reader.

Read more...

buckshot

I would be afraid of the Skiiiins. Clinton will walk all over you. Santana gonna lay it down. Randel El will dominate you. Then you got Captain Chaos, Chris Cooooooooley. Coach Gibbs is a champion. Skins will dominate anyone who tries to mooch their gear. Fact, period, end of story. And when you ain't looking, watch out for #21. He'll roll up on you in your peripheral, lay you out proper. You think this is a game?

Worthyb

I recently inquired to an old-style baseball cap manufacturing company in New York State that I would like to know if they ever had plans to expand their inventory to include old-style NFL baseball caps, the kind that coaches assistants and waterboys would have worn back in the 1950s.

I was arrested some two days later and charge with felony intent to desecrate copyrights over a state line. My case is pending.

I can speak nothing more of this.

jsquire

The NFL relies on liscensing for a large portion of its revenue. Not so for the feds. Thus the NFL stands to lose considerably more than the FBI, etc.

Now, try to fool the NFL on the salary cap issue and the IRS on your salary and see which one you fear more.

MurryMom

In the Pittsburgh area, the question is a no-brainer. Our Steelers just won the Super Bowl, our Pens and Pirates are last place teams, and the Pitt Panthers basketball team has trouble advancing beyond the second round of the NCAA playoffs. Nobody dares bad-mouth the Steelers on local talk radio nowadays. Even Randle-El is given a pass because he helped win the Super Bowl and most Steeler fans agree they would have accepted the bonus and salary that the Skins foolishly agreed to pay him.

funkyj

> Or how Matt Leinart went from a potential
> #1 last year to a number 10 pick
> this year.

Here is a topic for analysis. The so called experts at ESPN.com opine about how much money Leinart lost by waiting a year and being drafted lower and that this was a stupid move...

Doing an economic study of "draft position verses career earnings, by position" would presumably make for interesting reading.

Sure, if you are going to be a flop as an NFL player it is better to be drafted first (e.g. Ryan Leaf) than last ("Mr. Irrelevant").

Tflan

The NFL is serious about policing its marks. They have many lawyers on staff and on retainer and a lot of money to spend on lawsuits.
But, there may be other reasons for the lack of merchandise. The Redskins operate a few stores in the area. So, the DC area may be restricted to some extent to make the Redkins's stores the only, or best, option for team stuff.
Also, licensor's typically restrict what can be sold where. If they are trying to protect a brand, they may not want their high-quality stuff on the shelf next to low-quality stuff. I'm guessing that a huge souvenir store in DC is full of cheaply made tourist stuff. But, if you really want knock-off items, just stop by any street vendor. They should have some. Afterall, the only thing they could lose if caught is a folding table and chair. The store, however, risks a lot more.

Joubert

I was at Book Expo as well. Amazing show, absolutely stunning how many titles come out, and how much work those titles represent.

Oh, I live in DC (outside DC, anyway), and we are surrounded by 'skins stuff. It does strike me as a store carrying knock-offs.

I don't know if I would be more afraid of the NFL or Danny Snyder's lawyers.

xian

Was there any Washington Wizards merchandise? If not, the shop may have just carried Nats items along with the government apparel you mentioned. However, you do raise an interesting (yet very speculative) point.

jw

Mr. Dubner,

The NFL is the best marketed entertainment product today. Movie ticket sales are down, baseball attendance is lower, and the NHL can not get a TV contract outside of OLN. But the NFL is at an all time high with franchise worth and TV contracts approaching the billion dollar mark.

I absolutely loved "Freakonomics" and if Mr. Leavitt would ever do an economic analysis of professional sports (if he hasn't already) I would be very interested in reading it.

I would love to see a prisoner's dilemma game theory analysis of why Houston passed on Reggie Bush. Or how Matt Leinart went from a potential #1 last year to a number 10 pick this year.

Jemaleddin

The real issue is that the logos of the federal government are in the public domain. There's nothing illegal about selling "knock-off" FBI merchandise.

jglickman

Or perhaps they were just sold out... lol

MikeWas

I had to go look it up - it actually is a distinct federal crime to use the initials "FBI" in certain ways, but apparently not for clothing:

...knowingly uses the words "Federal Bureau of Investigation" or the initials "F.B.I.", or any colorable imitation of such words or initials, in connection with any advertisement, circular, book, pamphlet or other publication, play, motion picture, broadcast, telecast, or other production, in a manner reasonably calculated to convey the impression that such advertisement, circular, book, pamphlet or other publication, play, motion picture, broadcast, telecast, or other production, is approved, endorsed, or authorized by the Federal Bureau of Investigation;

Source: U.S. Code, Title 18, ?709
http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/html/uscode18/usc_sec_18_00000709----000-.html

There are other statutes governing impersonation, and such. Exercise for the reader.

Read more...

buckshot

I would be afraid of the Skiiiins. Clinton will walk all over you. Santana gonna lay it down. Randel El will dominate you. Then you got Captain Chaos, Chris Cooooooooley. Coach Gibbs is a champion. Skins will dominate anyone who tries to mooch their gear. Fact, period, end of story. And when you ain't looking, watch out for #21. He'll roll up on you in your peripheral, lay you out proper. You think this is a game?

Worthyb

I recently inquired to an old-style baseball cap manufacturing company in New York State that I would like to know if they ever had plans to expand their inventory to include old-style NFL baseball caps, the kind that coaches assistants and waterboys would have worn back in the 1950s.

I was arrested some two days later and charge with felony intent to desecrate copyrights over a state line. My case is pending.

I can speak nothing more of this.

jsquire

The NFL relies on liscensing for a large portion of its revenue. Not so for the feds. Thus the NFL stands to lose considerably more than the FBI, etc.

Now, try to fool the NFL on the salary cap issue and the IRS on your salary and see which one you fear more.