One of the more exciting young talents currently playing in the National Hockey League is Johnny Gaudreau, a forward for the NHL’s Calgary Flames who is also known by the nickname “Johnny Hockey.” The 2014 winner of the Hobey Baker Award as the best collegiate hockey player in the NCAA, Gaudreau was among the NHL’s point leaders at the end of the 2015-16 NHL season and a finalist for that year’s Calder Memorial Trophy, awarded to the league’s best rookie. As of July 2016, the 23-year-old young hockey star can also count himself the owner of a registered U.S. trademark for the use of “Johnny Hockey” in commerce.
Canadian sports news service The Sports Network first reported on Gaudreau filing trademark applications in the U.S. and Canada back in January 2015. TSN’s reporting indicated that the decision to register the “Johnny Hockey” nickname for trademark was made by Gaudreau and advisors to provide better leverage on future endorsement deals.
U.S. Trademark Registration No. 4992448 protects the use of the standard character mark “JOHNNY HOCKEY” on goods in trademark class 25, which includes marks registered for clothing, footwear and headgear. Specifically, the mark has been registered for use on clothing goods such as shirts, sweatshirts and coats as well as footwear goods like shoes and boots.
It’s typically a good business move for any professional athlete with a recognizable nickname to try and register a trademark for that name. A March 2015 article from The National Law Review discussing the Gaudreau trademark application notes that for the investment of a few hundred dollars, a professional athlete can obtain a trademark which endorsement sponsors might pay top-dollar to license for a large merchandise campaign. Although provisions of the Lanham Act prevent third-parties from registering nicknames for trademarks, many young professional sports stars have been able to trademark their own nicknames in recent years including the NBA’s Joel Embiid.
Of course, there are many ways that such a branding opportunity for a sports professional can be ruined, rendering such a registered trademark fairly worthless. One needs only consider the example of Johnny Manziel, the phenom Heisman Award-winning college quarterback who became synonymous with the nickname “Johnny Football” before poor performance in the NFL and behavioral issues found him out of an NFL job. Manziel has applied for a U.S. trademark for the use of the “Johnny Football” nickname on goods and as recently as this October, paperwork was filed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office by counsel representing Manziel to continue an application for the trademark. According to coverage from ESPN, Manziel was able to negotiate a higher percentage of royalties in a merchandise deal just for having filed the application and without actually owning the trademark.