Taking the T-shirts off their backs Stadium authority moves to prevent unofficial sales

August 30, 1991|By Mark Hyman

The sporty shirt with the new ballpark emblazoned on the front was a popular seller at a local discount store. And apparently business remains brisk for Roy Becker, the enterprising fashion designer who has been selling his line of Camden Yards duds outside Memorial Stadium.

But the boom times may be over for peddlers of T-shirts celebrating the new baseball ballpark.

This month, the Maryland Stadium Authority started cracking down on the shirt-sellers, telling them to stop or face legal action. The specific objections vary with each case, but the authority generally has taken the position that, for now, certain images of the new ballpark and the use of the name Camden Yards belong tothe state.

"Naturally, we're very pleased that the design of the stadium has received such complimentary reviews and that entrepreneurs feel they have a salable product," said stadium authority chairman Herbert J. Belgrad. "But as an agency of the state, we only want what we are entitled to."

This month, the stadium authority has notified two T-shirt sellers of their objections, with mixed results.

Leedmark, a large retail store in Glen Burnie, was selling a stadium shirt for $5.38 that featured a multicolor model of the new ballpark and the slogan, "Baltimore Baseball . . . is Goin' Downtown." That changed when the store received a letter listing the stadium authority's concerns, including the picture of the new ballpark, which apparently had been drawn from a model commissioned by the state.

Stuart Koblen, Leedmark's divisional merchandising manager, said the store immediately canceled the order and stopped selling the shirts, which had been so popular that they had to be reordered four times in three months.

Koblen said the designer of the shirts has contacted the stadium authority and wants to produce a new, state-approved T-shirt that Leedmark might carry in the months leading up to the scheduled opening of the new ballpark in April 1992.

"The demand [for stadium-stamped merchandise] is there, and it's going to get greater," Koblen said.

Becker's situation is different from Leedmark's in one important way -- despite stadium authority concerns, he apparently will continue selling the shirts, which sell for $12.

Becker's lawyer, Gary Maslan, said his client didn't see any reason to stop, despite claims by the stadium authority that his shirts infringe on a trademark because of the use of Camden Yards, a name the authority says has gained in value because it appears on newsletters and displays and has been used to refer to the entire stadium project.

Maslan disagreed: "I don't think they have any legitimate complaints," he said.

In a letter to Becker dated Aug. 22, the stadium authority's lawyers write that if he hasn't agreed to stop selling his Camden Yards T-shirts in 10 days, among other things, the authority might seek a court injunction against him and sue for damages equal to three times his profits.

On July 1, Becker, 28, applied for a trademark to sell his colorful clothing bearing the words "Camden Yards," one of the leading contenders for the name of the downtown park in which the Orioles will play.

Initially, that raised some questions about whether the stadium authority might face a legal struggle if it tried to give the ballpark the same name. The authority's lawyers now say they are confident that won't be a problem.

"Becker is not building a stadium; he is selling T-shirts. So he has no rights to interfere with naming the stadium," said Alison Asti, the authority's principal counsel.

There is one T-shirt tied to the new ballpark that is undisputably legal, if not available to the average fan. Tool manufacturer Black and Decker is paying the stadium authority $12,400 to call itself "the official supplier of power tools" for the new ballpark. Under the agreement, Black and Decker also is permitted to talk about the new Orioles ballpark in promotional materials and to produce a line of novelty items, including hats, golf shirts and T-shirts. The stadium items are handed out to some customers who buy and use the company's tools.

Bad news for T-shirt mavens: The agreement doesn't allow Black and Decker to sell the shirts, the stadium authority's lawyer said.

There is a possibility that more T-shirts designs -- with the stadium authority's stamp of approval -- could be in the offing. Asti said the authority, which will relinquish most of its copyrights when the new ballpark is opened, has received "several letters from different people" who want to explore licensing deals, but hasn't accepted any yet.

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