It’s springtime and for many parents, that means it’s time to get your kids away from the video games and out doing some throwin’, catchin’, hittin’ and runnin’. Most little leagues are either gearing up for, or have already started another season of baseball. One of my sons is playing his third season and he has moved up to the Minor C division, which means there are some changes he needs to adapt to. Namely, the kids are now pitching (no more pitching machine) and the field has a grass infield so ground balls act differently than if they were bouncing across only dirt. And there was one other change that took a lot of people by surprise…
It seems that Major League Baseball put the word out the little league districts that any league using it’s team names must purchase uniforms from it’s licensed apparel provider. Not only would this have raised the price significantly from what the uniform cost is now, it would have also placed our supplier across the country making the prospect of quickly being able to fix errors or other problems almost impossible.
The uniforms supplied by our local manufacturer did not use any licensed logos on the uniform. All uniforms had the league name on the front with the team name underneath in small block letters like you see below.
The only evidence of any team logo to be seen is on the hats, which were purchase from the licensed supplier, and seen on team banners during the games. MLB has a problem with the use of the team names on the uniforms, not even the logos because they were never used in an unlicensed manner. Young kids can get pretty excited about being on a team with the same name as a big league team, especially when they happen to get on the hometown team. I wonder why MLB decided it’s a good thing to potentially take that thrill away?
Now I understand why companies vigorously defend their brands. In fact, the way copyright laws are written, companies are almost compelled to pursue these types of actions in spite if they believe they should do it or not. The way current laws are written, if a company does not assert it’s ownership of intellectual property, it can lose that ownership right; sometimes at the cost of millions of dollars it’s spent to build the brand. So that’s why you sometimes hear stories about a company like Disney suing a preschool because it had unauthorized paintings of Disney characters on it’s walls. Is it because Disney dislikes children and wishes to punish them for their wrong-doing? Hardly. It’s because if Disney does not protect itself from everyone who unlawfully uses their property, they run the risk of allowing someone to use their property in a destructive manner and have no legal recourse because they have tacitly allows copyright infringement in the past.
So I understand the other side of this equation. Now back to the little league uniforms.
In spite of what I just mentioned, I think MLB has a problem. Baseball is no longer America’s pastime. That was taken over by football some time ago. In what many see as a dwindling market for baseball, can MLB really risk the alienation of the people that will make up much of it’s future audience? All for the sake of getting some licensing fees? Is this an example of short term gain at the expense of long term goals? I think there must be a compromise that does not attempt to soak baseball fans while at the same time keeping the property of MLB safely in their possession. That’s something for the lawyers to figure out. But then again, maybe the lawyers were the problem to begin with.
Oh, and this year’s uniforms? The league wanted to keep their local supplier so they changed the team names from major league teams to college teams. So MLB ended up with nothing from us for their trouble an we have uniforms that look even better than last year. Probably not quite what MLB expected but, like my son, his league learned to adapt to a changed playing field.
And my boy looks mighty good in pinstripes…