College basketball’s best talent was on display in the recently concluded NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball Championship. Long before the NCAA tournament became the preeminent showcase for young basketball players, the country’s best talent was found on the Harlem Globetrotters.
The Harlem Globetrotters began in 1926 as the Savoy Big Five. Now more than 89 years and 20,000 games later, the team has become one of the most recognizable franchises in sports.
My first exposure to the Harlem Globetrotters was through one of my favorite cartoons from my childhood: Scooby-Doo. The animated incarnation of the team appeared in several episodes during the 1970’s.
While the Globetrotters are known for their comedy and athleticism, they also have a history of playing “serious” basketball. On November 11, 2002, the Globetrotters played Vanderbilt during a three-week tour of playing serious, straight basketball against college teams. I was in attendance as one of the all-time Commodore greats, Matt Freije, nailed a 18 foot fadeaway jumper at the buzzer to beat the Globetrotters 70-68.
Coincidentally, a sophomore forward on that Vanderbilt squad, Corey Smith, would eventually wear the famous red, white and blue uniform himself after graduating from Vanderbilt. Before becoming a Globetrotter, Smith was part of one of the most miraculous plays in college basketball when he caught a full court pass with .07 seconds left, turned around and made a lay-up to beat Wichita State 65-63.
The Globetrotters protect their famous brand through not only superior basketball skills but a diverse trademark portfolio. Most people think of trademarks as only brand names, but trademarks can also be slogans, symbols, designs, or combination of these things. But that’s not all. It could be a sound, a color, or even a smell. Pretty much anything can be a trademark as long as it identifies the source of goods and services and distinguishes them from the goods and services of others.
All of these different types of trademarks can be protected by federal trademark registrations. Federal trademark registration provides important legal benefits such as a presumption of nationwide validity and the right to use the ® symbol.
The Harlem Globetrotters’ trademark portfolio includes federal registrations for the following:
- The words HARLEM GLOBETROTTERS (U.S. Reg. No. 2374778);
- The stylized version of the words HARLEM GLOBETROTTERS (U.S. Reg. No. 542474); and
- The HARLEM GLOBETROTTERS logo (U.S. Reg. No. 3286735).
The Globetrotters also own a federal trademark registration for their signature song, “Sweet Georgia Brown” (U.S. Reg. No. 1700895).
So if you’re looking for a game winning strategy for your brand, take a page from the Globetrotters playbook and lockdown federal protection for all of your different trademarks.