The original Cleveland Guardians? This roller derby team could cash in on Indians' name change

A little-known amateur men's roller derby team could prove to be the unlikely winner in the Cleveland Indians' decision to change their name to Guardians.
The Roller Derby team has been using the Cleveland Guardians name and logo for years and owns the appropriate domain name and social media accounts.
Yahoo Sports reached out to both Cleveland teams to ask if they had communicated with each other since the MLB franchise announced its name change last week. An Indian spokesman declined to comment on Monday on legal grounds. A representative of the roller derby team replied via Facebook Messenger: “We are very pleased that you are contacting us. Unfortunately we can't comment on that at the moment. "
Attorneys specializing in trademark law interpret the mutual silence as evidence that either a deal is being made or that both sides are in negotiations. As California-based attorney Steve Vondran put it, "When you get such responses, the parties usually want the negotiation to be confidential or they have already discussed and resolved it."
How much would Indians spend to avoid the hassle of a potential trademark infringement lawsuit? Or buy clevelandguardians.com and the roller derby team's Instagram and Facebook accounts? Some of the trademark attorneys refused to speculate. Others suggested the roller derby team could get a six-figure payout, a sum that is significant but not extravagant.
"It is probably worth paying the roller derby team something decent so there is no PR nightmare or bad will for the new name," Washington D.C. trademark attorney Josh Gerben told Yahoo Sports. "There is certainly value in making sure everyone is happy."
Cleveland Indians President of Business Operations Brian Barren revealed new logos that the Cleveland Guardians will use when the name change goes into effect after the 2021 season. (Photo by Jason Miller / Getty Images)
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These Cleveland Guardians have already played games
The Cleveland Guardians are a men's flat-track roller derby team that has competed in the Men's Roller Derby Association since 2016. On March 7, 2015, they played their first game against an MRDA-certified opponent, a 456-27 loss to the Cincinnati Battering Rams.
A blog post later written by a Guardians player quipped, “Some may call this a one-sided defeat. I prefer to think that we have worn them down. "
Hannah Zavorek, arena manager at C.E. Orr Ice Arena in Euclid, Ohio told Yahoo Sports that while the Guardians are unknown, they are "very important." The Guardians trained and played in the arena from 2016 to 2019, according to Zavorek, before closing for the past two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Trademark attorneys say it is very likely that the Indians became aware of the roller derby team after doing due diligence on possible new names over the past few months. While the roller derby team doesn't appear to have registered their name with the US Patent and Trademark Office, a quick Google search for "Cleveland Guardians" yields their website as one of the first results.
"By the time they do something as big as change the name of the team, they'll have their 'I' and their 'T' crossed," said Gerben. “The likelihood that they weren't aware of this is close to zero. Trust me, the team checked Google. "
Once they became aware of the roller derby team, the Indian attorneys would have likely assessed the risk of a trademark infringement lawsuit. Even without a registered trademark, the roller derby club could still have legal protection if it could show that it continues to use its name and logo and that a Major League Baseball team, also known as the Cleveland Guardians, was likely to confuse consumers.
The first question could relate to how a court assessed the roller derby team's two-year COVID break. The team has sporadically created new posts on their Facebook page over the past few years, but until a post was posted on Saturday looking for new players for the 2022 season, their website hasn't been updated since 2018.
Whether the existence of two Cleveland Guardians in the market would cause confusion is evidence on both sides. The roller derby team could argue that when two teams in the same city have identical names and logos with the same words, confusion is inevitable. The Indians could counter that the teams are not only involved in two different sports, but in two different stratospheres. The Major League Club has been a fixture in Cleveland for more than a century. Most in the Cleveland market don't even know the roller derby team exists.
Which side would win in the unlikely event that a lawsuit reached a courtroom? "Nobody can tell," said Vondran, "but it is probably not a fight the Indians want to have."
"If I were to advise the Indians, we would definitely work on a solution before litigation," he added.
How is the situation in Cleveland being resolved?
Trademark attorneys say the more expensive problem for the Indians could be the roller derby team's domain name and social media accounts.
In the past, Major League Baseball has aggressively asserted claims against new brands that have a hint of resemblance to team names or logos. As a result, it is hard for attorneys to imagine that the league would be comfortable with another Cleveland team, small as it may be, clevelandguardians.com or related Facebook and Instagram pages.
Heitner Legal sports attorney Darren Heitner told Yahoo Sports that there was "no reason the Cleveland baseball team should be able to pry the domain name away unless they are willing to give a lot of money."
Heitner said the roller derby team began using the domain name long before the name change and does not appear to have acted in bad faith.
The question that Heitner and others have is why the Indians didn't resolve this issue before their new name was announced last week. Now the public knows the other Cleveland Guardians, and their founders appear to be preparing for a lawsuit.
On Sunday morning, the roller derby team updated their Facebook page for the first time since March. The post contained a single image: a green and blue Cleveland Guardians logo of a scowling man in a winged helmet.
In the past 36 hours, the post has garnered more than 300 likes and almost 150 comments. A fan wrote under the post: “Where can we buy T-shirts ?! It will be the only Guardians t-shirt I will ever buy. ”Another, perhaps somewhat exaggerated, wrote,“ You are the legal owners of this name for use in athletics. Nobody else has a right to it and the baseball team just stole it from you. "
Hardly anyone knew that the Cleveland Guardians roller derby team even existed a week ago. Now they are talking about Cleveland and maybe ready to make some money.
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