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Q&A: Knowing Your Logo

by Danielle Catalano

At the 37th Annual National Conference of High School Directors of Athletics, James Perkins, Jr., of Pike Township (Ind.) discussed the purpose of logos and how communities identify with them, during his workshop, "Designing and Trademarking School Logos".

Perkins—who is a veteran of sports marketing, having started his career with the U.S.A.Track and Field, which required him to work with the U.S. Olympic Committee and its events, such as the Olympic Trials and Olympic Games—shared how Pike Township dealt with the legal ramifications of trademark infringements resulting from the district's old logo and the steps the school district took toward rectification. His presentation also offered insight into how athletic directors are slowly becoming more business-minded.

"When it comes to sports marketing, high schools are new to the industry," he says. "Colleges have been doing this for over 20 years, starting in the '80s with their branding, and high schools are just now catching on. While booster clubs will be the major revenue-raising sources for schools, athletic directors are starting to look elsewhere to specifically market their products, like emblems, to sponsors or other audiences.

"A school's logo represents more than just sports," he adds. "It stands for your social character, your academics. Just as you'd like your name to be seen, you want your mark to stand in a good light, and you need to protect it."

In the following Q&A, Perkins discusses the importance of logos and icons (which he refers to as "marks"), the role trademark policies have with sports booster club fundraising, and how these policies—when enforced—ensure school district rights are upheld.

FundraisingForSports.com: Why are logos and emblems important to school districts?
James Perkins, Jr.: There are several purposes for logos. Sports identification and image are probably the most familiar ones, but there are historical purposes too, such as logos being representative of something of prominence within the community's history. Logos send a visual message, such as "unbeatable" or "formidable" and drive school spirit. They become symbolic rallying points, which helps promote unity and continuity within a community. For instance, if everyone wears a T-shirt with the school logo during a pep rally, they are unified in their support for their team's success. Logos are also used as promotional and marketing tools, lending name and product associations to businesses or groups—and this is why it's important for school districts to trademark their logos. Once you trademark something, you have control as to how it's used.

FFS: What should athletic booster clubs be aware of when using logos and icons?
JP: The first thing booster clubs should know and understand is that the mark is the property of the school district at all times. The school district should have a policy regarding how its official marks can be used, and the booster club needs to be educated about what that policy means. Additionally, the policy should be reviewed with the booster club any time a vendor or other outside party seeks permission from the club to use the school's marks, so each side understands that it's agreeing to use the mark according to the school board's policy.

Secondly, when a booster club contacts a vendor to create a product for sale, concessions, or whatever the club would like to use the mark for, the club needs to make sure that the vendor agrees to use the mark in accordance with the school district policy in addition to whatever specific limitation is placed on the vendor, whether it's from the booster club or athletic director.

The policy and procedures need to be in writing, and vendors should sign the policy, which is usually called a limited license agreement. This states a vendor may use the school's marks for a specific period of time for a specific product, and that is what the vendor functions under.

After the vendor signs the agreement, you sign the agreement, and the form is turned in to the athletic department. This is not foreign to vendors. Most know that they will have to sign some kind of limited license if booster clubs have a mark that is controlled through trademark.

FFS: How closely linked should a school district's fundraising policy be to the school district's trademark policy and licensing agreement?
JP: It should be very close. The school's corporate attorneys should be the formal group who develops the license agreement and the family usage agreement, which most booster clubs are defined as being part of the school's "family".

The school's legal team will also be the most familiar with the district's policies on fundraising and be the ones preparing the limited licensing agreement for vendors, sponsors, and others who seek permission to use the school's mark and its likeness. The legal team should provide school booster clubs user-friendly forms that can be given to those persons who seek permission to use those marks.

FFS: How can the public know which promotional or fundraising products are officially licensed items by the school district and that money spent to purchase these items will be given to the school district?
JP: If the school's mark has been out there for a number of years but it hasn't been enforced or policed, it may be falling into public domain, which means anybody can use it, and the money will be going to whomever created that promotional product, not necessarily the school.

On the other hand, if the product has a logo with a "TM" (trademark) stamped on it, then the public will know that the vendor has permission to sell that product in accordance with some agreement with the school district. The public can be assured that money collected from the sale of the product will be going toward the school.

Usage of marks or products without a "TM" is at risk. The vendor may be good to his word, saying that he's representing the school and that the money is going to the district, but there's no way to really know, because without a "TM" in place, vendors don't have to disclose that information. The only way to properly protect a school's mark—when and where they're used, and if the revenues collected from their sales are going back to the school or wherever the district designates—is to have the "TM" or copyright.

...If there are doubts, the school district is a public organization, and there are procedures for the public to ask the district who it conducts business with. There's no reason why the district would hold that information from them. The public may have to go through specific procedures, but there's no reason why that should be withheld.

FFS: What consequences can booster clubs face if they don't adhere to their school districts' trademark policies or license agreements?
JP: A booster club has the responsibility of using the marks or providing the mark to vendors or other programs when they agree to the policy. As a family member, the booster club also takes on the responsibility to police the usage of the mark and to enforce the proper rules of its use. Obviously, it's in the club's best interest to represent the school in a way that the school intended.

Ultimately, a booster club can lose the right to use the official marks of the school system, if it is not using the marks properly, if the booster club allows vendors to use them improperly, or if the club allowed the marks to be used illegally or inappropriately in association with products such as alcohol, tobacco, and things of that nature.

A booster club not only can lose its right to use the school's official mark, but the school district may ask the club to disassociate itself from the district. As a result, a booster club can become a vendor itself and sign a limited license agreement with the district to use the mark.

For more information about high school trademark policies, or to learn more about his NIAAA workshop, you may contact James Perkins, Jr at: JPerkins@pike.k12.in.us.


To find out what other schools are doing to protect their trade marks and logos, read"Is Your Logo Safe?" in the August/September 2005 issue of Athletic Management.



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