Hearing ends, ruling due Monday in suit over use of CFL Colts name

June 25, 1994|By Jon Morgan | Jon Morgan,Sun Staff Writer

INDIANAPOLIS -- The owner of Baltimore's Canadian Football League team testified yesterday that he is deliberately not associating himself with the NFL's Colts because of the bad feelings that team left in the city.

Jim Speros, who has spent the last two days in federal court here fighting a trademark infringement suit from the NFL, should know Monday whether his team can keep the name Baltimore CFL Colts. U.S. District Judge Larry J. McKinney told attorneys he probably would have a decision by then.

Speros said the 1984 relocation of the Colts from Baltimore to Indianapolis by team owner Robert Irsay poisoned the waters for the NFL franchise.

"There has been a lot of bitterness and anger. . . . If I'm associated in any way with the NFL in Baltimore it does nothing but hurt me and my organization," Speros testified.

"The name Irsay is not a name people recognize as a hero in Baltimore. There is a lot of sour feeling," he said.

Yesterday was the last day of a two-day hearing during which the rival leagues fought bitterly for the rights to Baltimore's storied football heritage.

The NFL alleges that Speros is unlawfully trying to profit from the name and is seeking an immediate court order barring him from using the name until its ownership can be permanently established at trial.

If the judge sides with the NFL, the team, which won in its first exhibition game last night, will have to -- at least temporarily -- stop all use of the name.

Speros said yesterday that he has no backup name, and may field a team known simply as "Baltimore" in the event the judge rules with the NFL.

But, he said, the impact could be financially ruinous for his fledgling franchise. New tickets would have to be printed, sponsorship and broadcast agreements renegotiated, and fans re-educated.

The total cost could hit $2 million, he estimated. Team uniforms do not display the name Colts and would not have to be altered.

"It would put our club out of business. I don't have $2 million," Speros said.

Lawyers for the NFL disagreed, and said Speros took a calculated risk when he adopted the name despite protestations from the NFL.

"Every step Mr. Speros took on behalf of his organization he took with the knowledge that it was being disputed by the NFL. He's not a simpleton; he's a very smart businessman," said John Paul Reiner, one of a small army of lawyers the NFL brought to Indianapolis.

"It was a good shot on his part to get a lot of publicity," Reiner told the judge. He said Speros' actual costs in changing the name would be small.

Speros is trying to steal the goodwill and name recognition cultivated by the NFL over 40 years, something that could be damaging to the NFL, Reiner alleged.

As proof, the NFL submitted to the judge copies of media reports referring to the new team as simply the "Colts" and to CFL literature and advertising that explicitly refers to Baltimore's 30-year football tradition.

The NFL produces some Baltimore Colts merchandise as part of a "vintage" line of goods. The league says it is worried about the loss of that business, and sales of Indianapolis Colts goods, as well as confusion on the part of consumers about who is responsible for Baltimore's new team.

The NFL produced a $75,000 survey of 726 people in 24 cities that asserted consumers would be confused by having teams in different football leagues with the same name.

Speros and the CFL yesterday produced their own study, performed by marketing researcher Michael Rappeport of Princeton, N.J., that suggested the opposite.

The results show that consumers tend to buy sports merchandise because they support the team depicted, and are able to distinguish between different leagues, Rappeport testified.

The Baltimore Colts' Band head John Zeimann testified that the NFL has never complained about the use of the name by his organization, which performed at NFL games and other events steadily ever since its namesake team left.

Speros' attorney, George F. Pappas of Venable, Baetjer and Howard in Baltimore, asked the judge to deny the NFL's request because, in part, the league failed to act quickly to notify Speros of its objections.

Furthermore, Pappas argued, the NFL voluntarily abandoned its claim to goodwill in Baltimore.

"They don't own history. They own the goodwill associated with the name. And in Baltimore . . . the team severed its goodwill," Pappas said.

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