Mission possible: the Bombers

February 27, 1994|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,Sun Staff Writer

The Bombers, a nickname that couldn't gain entry into the NFL last November, may yet fly over Baltimore.

Jim Speros, owner of Baltimore's Canadian Football League expansion franchise, said yesterday that Bombers is one of the names under consideration if he is unable to call his team the Colts.

Other alternatives are Stallions and Mustangs.

Speros said a decision will come at a Tuesday news conference to unveil the team logo and announce ticket information.

The name of Baltimore's new professional football team became a legal lightning rod when the NFL, in a Feb. 11 letter, urged CFL commissioner Larry Smith not to approve the use of Colts. The letter contained a threat of legal action if the CFL did not comply.

The threat was reinforced late last week when Speros was contacted by NFL Properties, the merchandising arm of the league, about the name. He said he plans to talk with John Flood, president of NFL Properties, before making a decision.

"I've had negotiations with the NFL the last couple of days," Speros said, "and they let me know if I use the Colts name, I'll be sued."

NFL offices were closed yesterday, and spokesmen were unavailable. Speros says he hasn't ruled out using Colts. But it seems clear the Virginia entrepreneur does not relish the idea of a prolonged legal battle at a time when he is attempting to put together his organization.

"I don't plan on paying the NFL," he said. "They said they will fight this thing to the end. I think we can win, too, but the process isn't fair to me."

If the NFL got an injunction in federal court, it could keep the issue tied up as long as two years, Speros said.

"The NFL hasn't [shown] me anything to change my mind," he said. "I will make the right decision. I'm not letting them intimidate me. They're negotiating with us, which is a good sign."

Smith said he would speak with Speros about the matter before Tuesday's announcement. If Speros goes ahead with his plan to use Colts, he would be required to sign a letter of indemnification, releasing the league from legal risk.

A local attorney who specializes in trademark law says Speros would face "an uphill fight" to win the name in court, even though the NFL let the license lapse for the name Baltimore Colts. Speros has since filed for trademarks rights to the name.

Ned Himmelrich, chairman of the Maryland Bar Association Intellectual Property Committee, which deals with patents, trademarks and copyrights, said the focus should be on consumer confusion that may occur with merchandise purchased anywhere in the country.

"It's going to come down to the likelihood of confusion and one side showing that consumers of what the CFL has to offer does or does not believe that those products or services come from NFL Properties," Himmelrich said.

"If the [logo] design were totally different, and if [Speros] can show there is no likelihood of confusion, they could win. But I think it would be hard to show no likelihood of confusion because of the connection of Colts and football.

"Merchandise is very important to NFL Properties. If a consumer buys a CFL Colts product and has trouble with it, there is a distinct possibility they would call NFL Properties to complain. That's the confusion."

Himmelrich also said the fact Baltimore used the name Colts before going into the NFL was negated by the legal theory of estoppel: "If someone has rights [to a product] and someone else infringes, and the first party doesn't protect the rights, the first party cannot come later and protect his rights -- because the second party has relied on the inaction of the first."

As a result of the NFL's recent expansion process, the league holds trademark rights to Stallions and Bombers, as well as Colts. But Himmelrich said he thinks Speros would stand a better chance of using Stallions or Bombers because the NFL no longer has intent to use them.

Speros said he has looked at Bombers logos that were drawn up for Leonard "Boogie" Weinglass, a clothing magnate who sought an NFL expansion team for Baltimore. If the choice is Stallions or Mustangs, Speros could still use the logo of a chess-like figure of a horse head planned with Colts.

Whatever the name, Baltimore will have a marquee opponent when it plays its home opener July 16. The tentative 1994 CFL schedule calls for the Calgary Stampeders, led by quarterback Doug Flutie, to visit Memorial Stadium.

Speros hopes to make one change in the proposed schedule. To avoid a conflict with an Orioles game Aug. 11, he wants to move his date with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats to Aug. 10.

TENTATIVE SCHEDULE

#

July 7 at Toronto

July 16 vs. Calgary

July 23 vs. Shreveport

July 28 at Winnipeg

Aug. 6 at Las Vegas

Aug. 11 vs. Hamilton-x

Aug. 20 vs. Toronto

Aug. 27 at Hamilton

Sept. 3 at Shreveport

Sept. 10 vs. Sacramento

Sept. 18 at Saskatchewan

Sept. 23 at Ottawa

Oct. 1 vs. Ottawa

Oct. 7 vs. Las Vegas

Oct. 16 at Edmonton

Oct. 22 vs. B.C. Lions

Oct. 29 vs. Winnipeg

Nov. 5 at Sacramento

x -- may be moved to Aug. 10 to avoid conflict with Orioles game

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