You can’t trademark the name of a location, can you? Surely not. Yet, Liverpool FC’s owners, Fenway Sports Group (FSG), have tried to do just that.
FSG recently lodged applications to copyright the name “Liverpool” and the terms “Allez, Allez, Allez” and “6 times”. The club’s owners made their requests known to the Intellectual Property Office just last week.
It’s fair to say the news did not go down so well against Reds fans and some supporters’ organisations.
One such group, Spirit of Shankly (SoS), released a statement on the matter, strongly condemning the actions of the owners and highlighting the lack of transparency on the club’s part.
SoS begins with the heading, “Liverpool is Not For Trademarking” before saying that the supporters’ group was “alarmed” to hear about the owners’ plans regarding the name of their club, which is, of course, also the name of their beloved city.
They went on to say that, as is often the case, the “devil is in the detail” and were critical of the club’s “vague” statement and how there was absolutely no public consultation on the matter.
It’s easy now to see why they did not consult with any fans’ group. They knew what the general feeling would be among the public.
To go ahead and make these applications on the back of the goodwill generated by the club’s Champions League success in June seems to have been a grave PR error on FSG’s part.
SoS also had some queries on certain scenarios if FSG’s applications were somehow successful.
“Can we now assume that anyone who uses the name Liverpool could face legal action?
Will local football teams be at risk, simply for having ‘Liverpool’ in their name?”
This is one of the first, and certainly the most obvious cases, of FSG not being aligned with the thinking of the club’s fans.
Bill Shankly brought Liverpool to greatness from the old second division and his whole club ethos was based on socialism. Shankly believed the club belonged to the people and the players took to the field every Saturday afternoon to play for those people.
“The socialism I believe in isn’t really politics. It is a way of living. It is humanity. I believe the only way to live and to be truly successful is by collective effort, with everyone working for each other, everyone helping each other, and everyone having a share of the rewards at the end of the day. That might be asking a lot, but it’s the way I see football and the way I see life.” Shankly once said.
The club’s great Scottish manager once published a piece in the Liverpool Echo stating that he would look to help any genuine fans who wanted to attend games at Anfield if they were having trouble obtaining tickets. It’s safe to say Shankly was a man of the people.
Here we are, 38 years after his passing, still speaking of the good he did for the city of Liverpool.
Shankly’s approach was in stark contrast to that of the club’s current owners. FSG are very much devotees at the church of Capitalism. While that’s expected in the modern day, FSG must realise they at least need to be seen to care what Joe Bloggs thinks. Such business groups as FSG pay astronomical fees for agencies to manage their public relations. In this case, they need to ask for their money back.
Who thought this would be a good idea? Is owning the “Liverpool” name potentially worth more than any negatives that may arise from such a slap to the city’s face? Could they manage without these trademarks? Of course they could. However, such copyrighting issues may lead to others not managing at all.
As highlighted by the SoS, the domino effect of the ‘Liverpool’ name being trademarked could be devastating for some.
“For decades, local traders outside of Anfield have sold scarfs, hats, T-shirts etc and for many, it’s their sole source of income. Scores of those T-shirts have been, and still are, happily worn by players, past and present. These traders provide a vibrant alternative to the club’s official merchandise and are bought by thousands of fans every matchday. What happens to them? The list goes on.”
FSG needs to leave its collective Capitalist brain out of this. Some decisions, even in business, should still be made with the heart.