Seahawk fans, we hate to break it to you, but you’re not the 12th Man any longer, at least not in official Seahawk tweets and other social media, nor even in the Ring of Honor at Seattle’s CenturyLink Stadium.
In a new trademark agreement with Texas A&M University, the Seahawks’ front office has agreed to limit the use of 12th Man. And what use the team will have of the phrase is going to cost it $140,000.
Under terms of the deal, the Seahawks will pay $18,000 a year over the next five years for its limited use, and another $10,000 each year to help A&M protect its trademark.
Along with trademark law, the Texas university has a long history attached to the name, which like the Seahawks, uses it to honor their fans, the 12th player urging the other 11 on the field to victory. The A&M Aggie’s 12th man goes back to a game in 1922, when, with dwindling reserves on the bench, the coach called down a former player from the press box to suit up in case he was needed. He wasn’t, but he was dubbed the 12th Man, a name that later came to stand for the student body at the games.
Although not stretching as far back as Aggie history, the Seahawks have a long and lasting connection to the phrase. The team retired the No. 12 jersey in 1984, and began the tradition of raising a flag with the number 12 on it in 2003.
A&M applied to trademark 12th Man in 1989, then filed a trademark infringement complaint against the Seahawks in 2006. The dispute was settled with a licensing agreement, which was renewed in 2011. The Buffalo Bills and Indianapolis Colts also have licensing agreements with A&M over the use of the term. Like the Seahawks, the Colts earlier this year agreed to remove “12th Man” from its Ring of Honor.
A&M’s protection of its trademark is only slightly less zealous than that of the International Olympic Committee’s protection of the term Olympics; were it in its power, the IOC would probably seek to change the name of a certain Washington state mountain range.
The Seahawks seem content to let the specific phrase, 12th Man, fade, and instead are emphasizing the number, using 12, 12s, “We are 12s,” and similar phrases in social media and in marketing.
And the Seahawks can’t make too much of a fuss over A&M’s trademark, since the Seattle team already has its own trademark on “12” and several other uses of the number, including 12s and “Bring on the 12.” (We assume the trademark still allows the sale of doughnuts, eggs and roses by the dozen.)
In the end, the trademark nonsense is of interest only to the lawyers and the marketing professionals.
When the 12 flag goes up, and Russell Wilson, Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor and the other Seahawks take the field, call yourself whatever you’d like.
Nobody’s going to hear you in the middle of all that glorious noise.