This article examines the harm that accompanies real and threatened in-market relocations of professional sports teams and proposes a federal statutory remedy that will protect the interest of city residents given the reality that city governments have demonstrated their inability to adequately protect their electorate through contract law alone. Although, as this article discusses, there have been myriad bills proposed by Congress in response to several high profile out-of-market sports franchise relocations (mostly those involving NFL teams and mostly during the 1990’s), in-market relocations have historically occurred much more frequently, inflicting similar harms to the spurned city residents. Moreover, as this article shows, these harms accrue even when these franchises ultimately decide to remain within the boundaries of their urban bases; it is the mere threat and resulting relocation negotiations pitting city against nearby suburb, each hoping to curry the local team’s favor, that cause damage. As in-market relocations are likely to become even more prevalent in the future, this article contends that legislation is needed. This article concludes that amending the federal Lanham Act by providing cities with a limited property right -- a right of publicity -- in their names will cure many of these ills. By commodifying the names of cities, the true costs of in-market relocations will be felt by teams that, as of now, are free to relocate at their whim, taking advantage of superior lease terms offered by suburban political entities while at the same time benefiting from the affiliation with the cities they have spurned. A federally created right of publicity would prevent such actions or, at a minimum, compel sports franchises to pay for the right to associate with a city in which it no longer plays if it wishes to reap the attendant benefits of the association.
Intellectual Property Law | Legislation
Date of this Version
Nathanson, Mitchell J., "What's in a Name or, Better Yet, What's it Worth?: Cities, Sports Teams and the Right of Publicity" (2007). Working Paper Series. 91.