Can fans be fans anymore?

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By: Rachel Buck
Sports Information Assistant

If things keep up, you may not see fans showing this type of support for their teams anymore

It’s an intriguing question, considering the current environment of society, which at times, almost seems like if you look at someone wrong you have to worry about showing up in court the next month.

Yesterday I stumbled upon this story of a restaurant owner in Montreal, a Canadiens fan, who is now being sued by the NHL for having a banner on the side of his building that says “Go Habs Go”.

http://ca.news.yahoo.com/nhl-lawyers-demand-89k-montreal-restaurant-using-habs-195416637.html

There are several more examples that have surfaced recently, and I’m sure there are many more that haven’t received the national attention:

Here’s another Canadian business owner and hockey fan that was discouraged from supporting his team

http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/story/2011/04/29/bc-canuck-honda-sign.html

Deadspin (and everyone else) has issues sharing video from MLB

http://deadspin.com/5793065/we-need-youth-baseball-teams-to-reenact-mlb-highlights-for-us-because-mlb-hates-its-fans-and-probably-children-too

And in a semi-related story of fans not being allowed to support their team, a guy in Florida who was asked to remove his support for the Lightning from his front yard

http://sports.yahoo.com/nhl/blog/puck_daddy/post/How-Lightning-fan-outwitted-petty-HOA-over-playo?urn=nhl-wp4283

I’m not arguing that leagues and teams don’t have rights to protect its logos, colors and other trademarks. But to come out and say that someone can’t have a sign that says “Go [insert favorite team here] Go” seems a bit excessive. Does this now mean anytime I enter an arena and use the same words in a chant or make one of those clever poster board signs to help support my team I have to live in fear of being sued? If that’s the case I’m sure my next sporting event will either require me to sign a waiver allowing me to use selective language and text (which may already happen considering the fine print that now fills the back of most tickets) or all fans will be sitting on their hands, fearful of cheering for their favorite player when something happens because the players’ name may fall under protective rights.

There is a difference between preventing the manufacturing of knockoff products and loyal fan support, and the NHL (and other teams/leagues) need to take a step back and differentiate on these issues. Because at some point it becomes more of a hindrance and almost petty behavior to stop fans from supporting their teams, especially from a public relations standpoint. Bad press and terrible approaches to dealing with minor infractions is never a good way to build a positive rapport with fans.

Common sense tells me that the restaurant in Montreal [most likely] does not have an endorsement from the Canadiens. Just like the shoe shine guy at the Chinatown Metro stop in DC isn’t the official shoe shiner of the Capitals or the homeless man standing outside Miller Park with a “Go Brewers…help the homeless” sign isn’t the official homeless guy of the Brew Crew. Instead, those signs represent a fan showing support for their [favorite] team.

The Montreal business owner did the right thing by removing the trademarked logo from the poster, but the fact that he had to remove the “Go Habs Go” seems a tad absurd. I think back to my high school days when we painted the windows of downtown businesses with “Go Bluejays” or my current set of washers boards that I painted Marquette “blue and gold” and wonder if I should hide them in the closet for fear of the color police coming after me for painting something an eerily similar color combination to that of my alma mater.

We as fans already pay through the nose for team memorabilia because of trademark and licensing costs. Have you seen the price of a hockey sweater lately?! Even simple things like trading cards and smaller tchotchke items can leave a fan dropping a significant chunk of change at the gift shop. Once I was at Miller Park and a family of four walked in. Each kid was given $10 to spend and in the end they walked out with pencils because it was the only thing within their budget. Please don’t let the leagues take away the one last affordable item at arenas: Our freedom of speech and obnoxious chants at games!

In my finals words I’d like to say: Dear Mr. Bettman (I hope your name isn’t trademarked under the NHL or I’m in trouble); You have two failing franchises, declining attendance in major markets and dismal TV ratings…perhaps you should focus on some big-picture items to improve the league rather than nit-picking fans who are supporting the cause.

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