November 12, 2010
The Milwaukee Bucks have created a unique atmosphere at the Bradley Center. In a league where most fans spend their games on Bluetooth headsets and politely clap after the most athletic plays in the known universe, the Bucks have managed to create a college-type of rowdy crowd with their Squad 6. When people use the phrase "Fear the Deer," they're not just being cute -- playing in Milwaukee is a real challenge.
"Fear the Deer" is now synonymous with the Bucks' identity. You see it on Twitter, in interviews, and all over television broadcasts. Now the team would like to make some money off the phrase.
From Don Walker in the Journal Sentinel:
The NBA and the Milwaukee Bucks have taken notice, too. Late last season, the NBA, at the request of the Bucks, filed for trademark rights with the U.S. Patent Office. This is routine, according to Mike Bass, senior vice president for marketing and communications at the NBA. Other teams have made similar requests.
That application is pending, Bass said.
Having taken that step, Bass said no one can use the phrase for commercial purposes without the permission of the Bucks and the NBA. If they did, it would be infringing on trademark rights, he said.
The NBA is a corporation, and corporations like to make money, so this shouldn't come as much of a surprise. The league trademarks phrases all the time, as do individuals associated with the NBA. The most famous instance is probably Pat Riley laying claim to "three-peat." Since that move, I've since taken to calling winning three championships in a row as "winning a Cerberus," which is sure to catch on soon. Then I'll have my own copyright claim.
I'm no expert on intellectual property -- bird law is my specialty -- but there seems something perverse about turning a fan rallying cry into a corporate slogan. Bucks home games are special because they actually seem to belong to the fans rather than the advertising sponsors. I doubt that fans will stop chanting "Fear the Deer" if it becomes a legal trademark of the NBA, but the phrase will certainly become something different if it becomes property of the league.
In case you forget, Bucks owner Herb Kohl is a United States Senator up for reelection in 2012. Expect the "Fear the Deer" controversy to become a key issue of the campaign. Is he on the side of the people or big business?!