Colts cover-up begins: Ruling forces rub out

June 29, 1994|By Jon Morgan | Jon Morgan,Sun Staff Writer

As workers handed out $4-off coupons at the Inner Harbor pep rally yesterday, they carefully inked out the forbidden name with markers.

At a post-practice news conference, the Colts banner had to be removed, leaving a bare wall as a backdrop. And in the end zone of Memorial Stadium, where the team takes the field for its first home exhibition game tonight, workers left the name Colts off the grass.

Within hours of Monday's federal court ruling in favor of the NFL in a trademark infringement suit, Baltimore's newest sports team began stripping itself of its name. The Baltimore CFL Colts, at least temporarily, became a team in search of a name.

The decision spread quickly throughout the team's interlocking relationships with fans, corporate sponsors and supporters.

Team owner Jim Speros says he will appeal the judge's ruling and hopes eventually to win the name back. Lawyers were huddling yesterday to plot strategy and trying to get clarification of U.S. District Judge Larry McKinney's ruling.

Monday's ruling was temporary, protecting the NFL from damages before the rights to the Colts name can be ascertained at trial. The order can be appealed on a number of grounds, including whether it should have been decided by a Baltimore-based judge.

Speros said it will take a few weeks to get an appeal filed, but was heartened by some elements of McKinney's decision that softened the blow. Pre-printed tickets and programs, for example, will not have to be altered.

There were thousands of other details being attended to yesterday as the team moved to comply with the order, which was handed down about 8 p.m. Monday.

"We're not going to do anything to disregard his order," Speros said.

Letters were sent out to broadcasters and other organizations notifying them of the ruling and asking them to stop using Colts.

"We can only notify people. It can't happen overnight," Speros said. The city, for example, painted the name in big letters on 33rd Street and will be responsible for removing or altering it, Speros said.

Colts merchandise under the control of the team will have to be boxed and shipped to the judge, who will store it pending the outcome of the case.

Colts ads on the side of MTA buses will have the name covered with broad black stripes, a not-so-subtle encouragement to anyone who may be mad enough at the NFL to join the CFL's followers.

At The Image Makers, an Owings Mills-based maker of T-shirts and other customized apparel, workers cranked up machinery yesterday to put out 3,000 shirts for opening day.

"We kept our inventory very low up to now because we heard about the case," said Mitchell Parson, co-owner of The Image Makers. "We had a mountain of shirts, and we just had to know what to put on them."

Retailers said they probably would have been allowed to sell out their inventory -- if they had any. Most found demand for the new team's merchandise running well ahead of supply for several weeks.

"It's been a difficult item to get and keep in stock," said Bill Kinloch, district manager of the Sports Authority. He predicted the switch in names would have no effect on merchandise sales.

Mark Downs Office Furniture, the official office furniture supplier to the new team, said it plans no change in its sponsorship other than making the required changes in program ads it received in trade for merchandise.

"Anybody who's interested in the CFL team and wants to support the team doesn't care what they're called," said Steve Rosen, chief executive officer of the Cockeysville-based Mark Downs.

Marketing experts said the controversy could bring the team helpful publicity and focus anger toward the NFL, but may be damaging in the long run to the franchise's fight for credibility with fans.

Mark Townend, production manager of Freed & Associates in Baltimore, said the team will "have to start from scratch, and people may not take them as seriously."

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