Ahead of Super Bowl, fans fight for trademarks to profit off Eagles-themed gear
A search of the United States Patent and Trademark Office's database shows that teams, players and fans are jostling behind the scenes to secure exclusive rights to NFL names, memes, slogans, and even numbers.
Brian Helwig, a FedEx driver from Brownsburg, Ind., calls Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz a "quality guy" and a "can't-miss prospect." He's even printed up "Wentz in a lifetime" T-shirts and is seeking to trademark the phrase.
But reached last week, Helwig acknowledged that he filed the trademark application in September 2016 "strictly from a profitability standpoint."
"I'm actually a Tom Brady guy," said Helwig, whose Gmail address is an ode to the age-defying New England Patriots quarterback: "bradyrules." He'll be rooting on Sunday for Brady — "my favorite athlete of all time" — to snag a sixth Super Bowl ring at the expense of the Eagles.
Helwig, who also runs a vintage baseball card store on eBay, is just one example of how everyday Joes are playing the trademark lottery outside of the public eye.
"I guess I heard somebody say it on a radio program and I thought, 'You know what? That's something that might catch on.' It was more or less just an idea to maybe sell it someday," said Helwig, who estimates that he has spent more than $600 trying to secure the Wentz trademark.
It's a long-shot bet that a deep-pocketed company might want to use it for merchandise someday – and would have to cough up a hefty licensing fee.
The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office's database is full of teams, players, and fans jostling behind the scenes to secure exclusive rights to names, memes, slogans, and even numbers.
The Seahawks took some heat in 2015 when the Seattle Times reported that the team had filed dozens of trademark applications, including several for variations on the number "12," a reference to the stadium's loud fans, nicknamed the 12th Man. The headline: "Hey, 12s: Seahawks want to trademark you."
Eagles running back LeGarrette Blount has trademarked "Blount Force Trauma"; safety Malcolm Jenkins's nonprofit foundation owns "No Phly Zone"; and the team itself filed an application last week to lock down the rights to the phrase "Fly Eagles Fly." (But continue to sing away. That's still free. We think.)
The Eagles have also sought to trademark "53 Angry Men," which was inspired by a win over the Patriots in 2015. Owner Jeffrey Lurie had told them to play angry before the game.
And, of course, Gronk Nation, a limited liability corporation run by the family of Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, has trademarked the word Gronk for use on caps, hats, sweaters, T-shirts, wristbands, and "snap crotch shirts for infants and toddlers."
Even Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera got in on the action by trademarking "Riverboat Ron" after he acquired the moniker in 2013. It took a few years, but he finally got the certificate in 2016.
But back to the fans who are trying to turn their passion for the game into potential business opportunities.
Louis Esposito, a South Philly native turned Bensalem accountant, sought to trademark "Wentz Wagon" after he heard President Barack Obama use the phrase in 2016 while stumping for Hillary Clinton.
"We said, 'Oh, we should trademark that.' We did a search and it was available, so we applied," Esposito said. "We did print and sell some T-shirts, but our hope was if one of them ever caught on, if the Eagles or Nike wanted to do a T-shirt, they'd have to give us some sort of commission or license fee. For us, that was the ultimate goal."
That Sunday, after Wentz led the Eagles to a 29-14 victory over the Chicago Bears, Esposito heard Philadelphia fans chanting it outside Soldier Field.
"I thought we might have something," Esposito said.
Alas, a trademark officer rejected their application for "Wentz Wagon" and "Wentzday," saying it might be confused with Carson Wentz.
Which, Esposito says, was precisely the point.
However, Esposito has been granted trademarks referring to 76ers Ben Simmons ("Wizard of Aus" and "Simmonster") and Joel Embiid ("EmBiist").
"Me and my buddy are always looking to do different kinds of things, and this was something fun," said Esposito, an Eagles and Sixers season ticket holder.
Stephan Matanovic, a business and intellectual property attorney whose clients include a professional wrestling organization, said he's not surprised that teams and fans would seek to trademark sports phrases.
"It's not unusual," Matanovic said. "The question becomes: Is it right?"
Michael Burns, an intellectual property attorney in DLA Piper's Philadelphia office, said fans seeking to acquire the rights to players' name have an uphill battle with the trademark office.
"It's really hard to get something registered if it's not your name," Burns said. But speaking generally, he said, "A company can come along at any time, or you can market it, and they might buy that from you. Intellectual property is a commodity that can be sold or licensed and you can make money off it."
Shawn Wilson, 25, an East Oak Lane resident who played running back at Dickinson College, filed a trademark application in November for "Philly Philly," a spoof on the "Dilly Dilly" Bud Light commercials.
"We were 9-1 and it was a big game, and we pulled it off and the 'Dilly Dilly' commercial came on and I think, 'Philly Philly,'" Wilson said Monday. "I'm like, 'Wait, this is a real idea here.'"
Wilson, a longtime Eagles fan, said he'd like to form a partnership with Bud Light if it wanted to use the slogan to advertise to Philadelphia sports fans. He might be onto something: Last week, Bud Light used it in an ad.
"I saw that and was like, 'It's happening!'" Wilson said with a laugh.
But Conor Corcoran, a Philadelphia trial lawyer who specializes in intellectual property, says he thinks Eagles fans are "wasting their time" trying to trademark football slogans. He said their value is fleeting and the chances are slim that a team will offer big bucks to the trademark owner.
A week after the Super Bowl, no one will care "because Kim Kardashian is going to name her latest child something stupid and that's it," said Corcoran, who, it should be noted, takes great joy in antagonizing the NFL. "They're not going to chase down some jamoke in Indiana to make him an offer on some nonsense trademark."
Helwig, however, has so far met no resistance to the "Wentz in a lifetime" application he filed from Indiana.
"If you run into anybody that wants to buy the trademark," Helwig said, "let me know."