The tradition of Texas A&M’s 12th Man dates back to 1922, when then Texas A&M head football coach, Dana X. Bible, called a former football player, E. King Gill, out from the stands to suit up in a game against the nation’s top-ranked team at the time, Centre College. While Gill didn’t see the field for a play that day, the Aggies nonetheless went on to win and the legend of the 12th Man was born.
As the tradition of the 12th Man grew in College Station, it became apparent to Texas A&M officials that they would need to trademark the phrase. In 1990 Texas A&M trademarked “12th Man.” In order to maintain trademark protection, trademark owners must defend against the infringement of their trademarks. It is for this reason, that in 2006 Texas A&M filed a trademark lawsuit against the Seattle Seahawks stemming from the NFL team’s use of the “12th Man” phrase. The lawsuit was ultimately settled, the terms of which included the Seahawks paying Texas A&M $100,000 and a subsequent $5,000 annual licensing fee for five years with a right to renew the agreement thereafter. In 2011 the Seahawks renewed the agreement for another five years, taking the deal through 2016.
As the 2016 expiration of the license agreement approaches and the success of the Seahawks continues to rise, reports indicate that the sides have begun renegotiation discussions. However, newly minted issues will likely drive the licensing fee Texas A&M receives under the deal to dollar amounts much greater than $5,000 annually.
Under the current agreement, Texas A&M placed several limitations on the Seahawks’ use of its 12th Man mark. One of those limitations was a regional limitation, which only allows the Seahawks to use the trademark in Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Utah and Washington. While the Seahawks cannot sell merchandise bearing the words “12th Man,” the organization can distribute promotional materials in those states bearing the trademark. The inclusion of such restraints by Texas A&M demonstrates the school’s desire to limit the reach of the Seahawks’ use of the trademark.
It is that desire to limit the Seahawks’ reach in using the phrase “12th Man: that will likely up the ante in the trademark licensing renegotiations. With the advent of new social media channels since the licensing agreement was first hatched and subsequently renewed, the Seahawks’ usage of the mark has arguably seeped out of the geographic boundaries Texas A&M wanted to limit it to. With nearly 1.5 million likes on Facebook and over 431,000 followers on Twitter and nearly 350,000 on Instagram, the social media reach of the Seahawks goes well beyond the Pacific Northwest. The extent of that reach has led to a situation where from a social media standpoint, much of the usage of the phrase “12th Man” is attributed to the Seahawks. Take for instance the fact that when searching for the hashtag “#12thMan” on Twitter, the Seattle Seahawks’ official Twitter account is the first account listed in results for similar people, rather than any Twitter account associated with Texas A&M. On top of that, the top three related searches for the hashtag were “@seahawks” “#gohawks” and #seahawks,” with no mention of any hashtags related to the Aggies. Likewise, a search for the hashtag “#12thMan” on Instagram revealed over 200,000 pictures, the bulk of which relating to the Seahawks.
Texas A&M is not blind to this fact. ”Twitter and social media didn’t really exist when we entered into the first licensing agreement in 2006. It wasn’t addressed at that time. We’ve had to address some compliance issues, as social media use goes beyond the agreed upon Northwest territory,” said Texas A&M’s interim vice president of marketing and communications, Shane Hinckley.
The question, though, is how will Texas A&M address the issue of social media usage in its trademark licensing renegotiations with the Seahawks? From a legal standpoint, there are two clear ways: The first, demand a signifiant amount of money more than the university is currently receiving under the agreement, or two, if the Seahawks are unwilling to cough up the desired amount of money, walk away from the agreement and continue defending against the unauthorized use of the 12th Man trademark. Regardless of which decision is chosen as 2016 approaches, one thing is certain: Texas A&M officials will be watching with wide eyes how the Seahawks organization and its fans utilize the 12th Man mark.
Source: Forbes Business