Texas A&M University claims it legally owns the phrase “12th Man” and the university is taking court action against the Seattle Seahawks professional football team for using “12th Man” in their run for the Super Bowl. The “12th Man” concept refers to the fans in the stands being the twelfth player “on the field” by yelling and cheering on the real 11 players on the field. Before each game the Seahawks raise a flag at every home game honoring the “12th Man” as demonstrated in the graphic below:

Seattle Seahawks 12th Man


Texas A&M claims their 12th Man began began in 1922
and the university trademarked the phrase in 1990. The Seahawks,
A&M contends, are infringing on their mark because “12th Man”
belongs to A&M alone.

 Texas A&M 12th Man

A&M has history on its side. The university prevented the Chicago
Bears and the Buffalo Bills from using the phrase and in 2004 and 2005
A&M sent letters to the Seahawks demanding they drop the phrase.
In Seattle, the Seahawks have tradition on their side. The 12th Man
concept dates to the early days of the team when they played in the old
Kingdome.

The Kingdome was a roofed stadium and when the fans made
noise it made it hard for the other team to hear each other on the
field. In 1984 the Seahawks retired the number twelve so it could never
be worn by a player in order to fully honor of the fans. The “12” flag
flies from the Space Needle during important games. Forgetting the law
for just an instant — which side has the moral high ground here: The
Seahawks or A&M?

If the Seahawks just start using the number “12” everywhere to suggest
“12th Man” without actually saying it out loud or spelling it out would
the team still be in violation of the A&M trademark? Should the
Seahawks be allowed to trademark the number “12” for their exclusive
use alone?

It is appropriate that the phrase “12th Man” is trademarked by A&M
when a number is placed in such close proximity of a single common
world? Would Seattle still be in violation if they instead used “12th
Dude” or “12th Player” or “12th Man-child” as their rallying cries?

12 Comments

  1. I think it will be a hard mark to protect, clem. A&M can fight the big boys like the Bears and the Seahawks and the Bills but they can’t go into every high school cove and neighborhood corner and wipe out “12th Man” from being used. The idea is too ingrained in the American football psyche to be exclusively held by A&M alone.

  2. i think you are right and that could be the slow death of the trademark because it will become common use and it will be too expenseive for them to always fight in court

  3. It may not be right but if they own it then going after other teams who use their property should be expected. Pat Riley has a trademark on “Three-Peat” doesn’t he? No one can use that without his permission.

  4. I see your point about it being hard to enforce but if you find out you can’t use the phrase, don’t use it. Don’t be like Seattle and keep using it or say using “12” was inspired by the “twelfth win” of the season or something to try to cover illegal tracks.

  5. I take issue with the excessive legal protection afforded to branding of things and ideas that by all accounts should be public domain as they are simply composed of well-worn elements of language or culture. Unless a particular linguistic construct is a central component of the brand image of a given entity (e.g Just Do It for Nike) , I see no compelling reason why legal protection should be afforded. While the 12th man slogan will allow the production of bumper stickers, t-shirts and other convenient vehicles for the slogan, wont both the A&M team and the SeaHawks continue to be most identified with their team logo? How much will the 12th man concept augment their brand image? Furthermore, it is hardly a distinguished or unique slogan. Any brand association afforded by it will quickly be eroded by rapid adoption of the term into common vernacular (this may have already occured, in which case their legal claim seem rather moot).

  6. The same thing was in effect when the “Big Game” was played in Detroit. A lot of advertisements referred to a specific event by the term “Big Game” instead of using the trademarked term because they didn’t want to pay or couldn’t get permission to use it.
    Maybe another term to signify the fans will be developed and put into the common vernacular. It might be fun to think of some term to refer to fan support.
    I understand the need to protect trademarks. If entities didn’t, there would be all sorts of infringements.
    I also like it when people come up with alternatives to trademarked terms, i.e. “Big Game.” It adds to our language and is in the spirit of our American competitive spirit.

  7. So Chris, are you saying “Big Game” was substituted for “Super Bowl” in Detroit area advertisements?
    Your search URL didn’t work for me but I’m thrilled you were able to look it up for us! What a fun find! I certainly wonder what, if anything, A&M might do about that one!
    😀