In 2002, according to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, Red Sox president Larry Lucchino apparently remarked that “The evil empire extends its tentacles even in to Latin America” in reference to the Yankees’ signing of Jose Contreras, a Cuban pitcher.
Rather than dispute the association with the villainous Star Wars society, the Yankees embraced it – so much so that, when a company named Evil Enterprises wanted to register “Baseball’s Evil Empire” for merchandising purposes in 2008, counsel for the Yankees filed a objection on the grounds that – yes – with regard to baseball teams, this term applied to the Yankees and the Yankees only. To support this evil claim, the attorneys for the Yankees cited articles from the last ten years in which the New York City team was referenced as the evil empire and also explained that the team played music from the Star Wars movies during their games.
This month, a panel of judges decided the fate of “Baseball’s Evil Empire” – in favor of the Yankees. One has to wonder if the panel of judges wrote the following sentences with smiles on their faces – or signed the decision with maniacal laughter: “In short, the record shows that there is only one Evil Empire in baseball and it is the New York Yankees,” wrote the judges. “Accordingly, we find that [the Yankees] have a protectable trademark right in the term . . . as used in connection with baseball.”
Setting aside the entertainment value of this case, it is an important one for those who may want to, say, start a business that sells merchandise with catchphrases or titles associated with and implicitly embraced by a sports team, celebrity, or organization. Then again, empires – evil or not – don’t always win when fans take their brand image in unintended directions: in the late 1990s, the U.S. Court of Appeals in New York City ruled that the term “hog”, a widely-used and accepted nickname for Harley Davidson motorcycles, could be used by a repair shop named the Hog Farm because the Hog Farm’s use of the term was a parody. You can even read about the decision on the Hog Farm’swebsite, on which “Battle Won” Hog Farm t-shirts are sold as well.