The Boss's Souvenirs

For Bronx-Bashing Steinbrenner, a Few Terms of Endearment

George Steinbrenner may desperately want to relocate the Yankees to Manhattan, but he is angling to keep some souvenirs from the borough he would like to abandon, the Voice has learned.

But unlike fans who scavenged for mementos prior to Yankee Stadium's mid-'70s renovation, Steinbrenner is not looking to salvage some stray box seats as collectibles. Instead, The Boss recently petitioned the U.S. Department of Commerce for approval to trademark several phrases and images linked to the venerable Bronx ballpark.

Though he wants his team to play on Manhattan's West Side, Steinbrenner is seeking to trademark the terms "Bronx Bombers," "The House That Ruth Built," and "Yankee Stadium," according to applications filed by the ball club with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. In addition to those three terms, the Yankees are also trying to trademark two drawings of the stadium, which they lease—until at least 2002—from the City of New York.

Apparently, Steinbrenner wants to take a piece of the Bronx with him if he moves to Manhattan.

The five trademark applications were filed in mid June, as the controversy over a possible Yankee move continued to roil. In the documents, the Yankees list a wide variety of proposed usages for the phrases and the drawings. The team is seeking to register the trademarks for an assortment of goods and services—every thing from baby bottles and beverage coolers to mustard and money clips. The club noted that, prior to their mid-June applications, they had not used the phrases and drawings in any commercial endeavors.

Several public officials, including City Council Speaker Peter Vallone, have said that if the Yankees moved to New Jersey, they would not allow Steinbrenner to escape with the team's marquee name. "I know it as a fact, [Steinbrenner] will not be able to take the name ‘New York Yankees' with him," Vallone told the Daily News in September. Howard Ruben stein, a Steinbrenner spokesperson, disagreed, saying the ball club "would have every right to take the full name."

Told Monday about Steinbrenner's recent trademark applications, Bronx borough president Fernando Ferrer said, through a spokesperson, "There's only one House That Ruth Built, and it's not in Secaucus, New Jersey, or the West Side of Manhattan. Yankee Stadium is a precious gem owned by the City of New York and its storied tradition cannot be reduced to a brand name that can be affixed to just any facility."

Ferrer—who, along with Vallone, pushed for a November ballot referendum on the possible public financing of a new stadium—added that the Yankees are "morally entitled to be called the Bronx Bombers when they are located in the Bronx."

Barry Werbin, the ball club's trademark counsel, would not discuss the timing of the five applications in light of the controversy over the Yankees' threatened move. "I'm not at liberty to comment on that except to say that the one thing has nothing to do with the other." Werbin, an attorney with Herrick, Feinstein, added that the "use of images of buildings and structures of notoriety is some thing that's become a very big issue in trademark law" and is "something that certainly has added value in a marketplace to consumers." Previous trademarks secured by the Yankees include the team's uniform design and the distinctive "NY" and "NEW YORK" logos that appear on the club's jerseys.

According to Commerce Department records, the five Yankee trade mark applications have yet to be as signed to an examiner for review. It can take anywhere from about a year to several years before a trademark is officially registered by the government. The approval process could drag on, for example, if the trademark application is challenged by a third party or if the application becomes the subject of litigation.

If approved, the Yankee trade marks initially would be registered for a renewable 10-year term. In addition, as with most valuable assets, Steinbrenner would be free to transfer the trademarks to another party. So per haps the task of peddling merchandise and memories of the House That Ruth Built will fall to others, like Chuck Dolan or his Cablevision comrades.

Commerce Department records show that the names of several other well-known stadiums have been trade marked, though these registrations occurred, in most cases, no less than a decade ago. Wrigley Field, Fenway Park, and Madison Square Garden are trademarked, as are newer facilities like Cleveland's Jacobs Field, Baltimore's Camden Yards, and Atlanta's Turner Field. However, Shea Stadium, home of the Mets and another city-owned facility, has not been trademarked.

Though no longer in use, the old Brooklyn Dodgers script logo is still owned by Rupert Murdoch's Los Angeles Dodgers, and its nostalgia value can be seen via an assortment of base ball caps, clothing, and other popular merchandise.

But the trademark for Dem Bums' old haunt, Ebbets Field, is not in Murdoch's hands. In fact, records show that a variety of firms are either using the name of the defunct Brooklyn bandbox or have applied to use the name. Soon, the Ebbets Field handle could be appearing on beer, tobacco products, mustard, and board games. On the other hand, Commerce Department records show that the Polo Grounds—the city's other great lost gem—has yet to spawn any similar trademark registrations.

 
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