Posted by Adam Jacobi
The practice of high school athletics borrowing mascots and other identity aspects from college programs is about as old as organized athletics themselves. Not every school does it, of course, but enough do that practically every high school conference has at least a couple teams with some, shall we say, "familiar" logos and/or nicknames.
Lately, some college athletic departments have been cracking down on the practice, suing high schools who use unlicensed likenesses. It seems unduly harsh for a college to do so, but merchandising licenses are lucrative enough that athletic departments actively try to maintain their control of the trademarked logos and insignia. That's just common business sense.
So it goes for Salem High School in Conyers, Georgia, who is being forced by Florida State and FSU's licensing company to discontinue the use of the iconic arrowhead insignia. Salem may still call itself the Seminoles, but it faces an overhaul that will likely cost the Rockdale Board of Education upwards of $200,000:
The Rockdale County Board of Education voted Thursday to accept a settlement offer that allows the schools to keep the name, though it may only be used when preceded by either Salem High or Memorial Middle.
"I thought it was a joke," said school board member Darlene Hotchkiss, referring to the letter. "Why are they going after the little guys?"
The missive, sent by the Collegiate Licensing Company on behalf of the university, said the schools' logo and mascot "may cause consumers to erroneously believe that the university has authorized Salem High School to use its marks. Additionally, it will dilute the distinctiveness of the marks that the public associates with the university."
Five years or not, the eventual cost could top $200,000, Hotchkiss told the AJC.
As Prep Rally notes, that's a $200,000 bill for a school board that already faces a $10 million budget shortfall, which seems particularly heinous, but the CLC explained that only the football uniforms are required to be replaced immediately. That's still a significant expense, but at least it's smaller.
Let's set aside the financial aspect, though, because this is a terrible idea on FSU and the CLC's part no matter what the "offending" school board's budget looks like.
First of all, the argument that Salem High might be "diluting" the FSU brand is preposterous. Nobody operates under the impression that a high school and college are somehow affiliated if the high school uses the college's mascot/nickname, especially if the two schools aren't even in the same state. Moreover, it's not as if Salem memorabilia sales somehow adversely affect FSU's; nobody's going to buy a Salem hoodie instead of FSU's. In fact, Salem's use of the arrowhead only adds to the ubiquity of the logo, making it more recognizable and iconic.
Also, consider who it is using these logos: high school kids. High school kids who aren't going to wear high school gear their entire life. High school kids who are going to want a college team to attach themselves to, especially if they don't end up attending a college with a major athletic program. FSU's got a nice head start with them (and their families), doesn't it?
But alas, in this age of aggressive legal stances and "brand management," unauthorized usage of a logo or namesake is generally frowned upon at best -- and usually litigated -- regardless of the actual consequences of that usage. It's a shame. FSU and the CLC have a great opportunity to publicly take a forward stance with sane brand management, and the best they can do is tell a debt-ridden school board over 250 miles away in a different state to take its time complying with an expensive rebranding directive.