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Garber comments show league, PNW fans heading for Cascadia Cup impasse

Jan 18, 2013, 2:10 PM EDT

MLS Sounders Timbers Soccer

Major League Soccer may be trying to diffuse the “Cascadia Cup” controversy, but after Thursday comments from Don Garber affirmed the league’s intention to trademark the term, supporters groups in the Pacific Northwest are digging in. While MLS may see trademarking as necessary to protect what’s becoming a league microbrand, fans of the Sounders, Timbers, and Whitecaps see it as MLS’s attempt to usurp a fan-created entity.

The resulting face-off is consuming fans in the Pacific Northwest, with Major League Soccer often being portrayed as a greedy, money-grubbing overlord. It’s an unfair depiction, but it’s also understandable given the passion fans have for something they’ve created. One Portland fan site author summoned Orwellian cynicism in depicting an over-marketed Cup future (while ironically tagging the post “Cascadian Exceptionalism”). A Seattle fan blog’s more even-handed coverage acknowledged MLS’s latest comments are “far short of what supporters were hoping to hear.” One Vancouver blog described fan reaction as “vitriolic”. (Those SBNation blogs are seriously great fan sites.)

Clearly, passions are high. Commissioner Garber addressed the situation yesterday in Indianapolis, admitting the league has “not done a good enough job communicating with the fans in the Pacific Northwest”:

“The goal is to have a trademark that’s managed, so that we – the league that has its teams playing in the Cascadia Cup – can ensure that that trademark is managed properly. That it’s not exploited by people that shouldn’t be exploiting it. That it’s not offered to those that might not have the right to be associated with Major League Soccer.”

Garber went on to explain why he feels Major League Soccer, not the fan groups, should dot he managing:

“[MLS can] ensure that it’s controlled. Prospective fan groups, in theory, could offer that trademark to a competitive sponsor … They can take that trademark and sell it to a promoter. They can produce merchandise that’s not merchandise that we would want associated with our teams or with our league. There are so many things that go into intellectual property management.”

It’s a compelling point, but the fact remains: The supporters in the northwest created the trophy. Major League Soccer may be better equipped to manage the brand, but it’s not theirs. With the recent creation of the Cascadia Cup Council — an umbrella organization that’s also seeking the U.S. and Canadian trademarks — fans finally have a singular entity that can make their ownership claim.

But as Garber implied, that’s not going to work. At least, not for Major League Soccer. The Cascadia Cup may have been created by supporters, but in the league’s view, the Cup has transcended its first life as a fan trophy. Major League Soccer is marketing it, it’s becoming a part of league initiatives like Rivalry Week, and whether the supporters admit it or not, much of the Cascadia Cup’s current (and future) prestige is tied to the league’s promotion of the trophy.

Fans may not want to hear it, and they certainly don’t want this Salazar-esque MLS monster they’ve concocted telling them what to do with their hardware, but without Major League Soccer signing off on it, the Cascadia Cup won’t mean much. If they don’t get the rights, Major League Soccer could create a replacement trophy, start promoting it, and slowly ween its three franchises away from any implicit promotion of something the league can’t control.

You would think there has to be a middle ground, but where it is? For fans, it’s untenable for the league to own something supporters created. But for Major League Soccer, it’s unacceptable for another entity to make money off their success of their franchises (or control the right to do so).

In a way, both sides are right, but with Major League Soccer scheduled to have a conference call next week with Council representatives, there doesn’t seem any room for compromise. If MLS doesn’t win the battle for the trademarks, we might see the quick diminution of the Cascadia Cup in Major League Soccer.

  1. endlessrevolt - Jan 18, 2013 at 2:36 PM

    This is not a situation where “both sides are right”. MLS is wrong but has a lot of money, which often is interpreted as “right”, but is not actually the same thing.

  2. valiantdraws - Jan 18, 2013 at 2:36 PM

    Fine…then the Timbers Army, Southsiders, and ECS can create another cup. MLS is risking alienating its biggest supports groups, which give MLS it’s best air of legitimacy. Besides, the supporters groups are the ones that AWARD the cup. They did long before the teams were in MLS, and they will continue to do so even if the cup wasn’t allowed in the stadiums anymore. Garber is stabbing them in the back. Let’s see how good those games look on NBC when the SG’s stay home.

    • valiantdraws - Jan 18, 2013 at 2:37 PM

      Supporters groups, not supports groups. My bad.

      • charliej11 - Jan 18, 2013 at 2:54 PM

        It is a fine line on game Saturdays. Support groups are needed sometimes.

        MLS doesn’t RISK alienating, they already have. They risk alienating enough to cost them what they care about. We have already bought this years tickets, so they have a year to pull their heads out.

    • dws110 - Jan 18, 2013 at 3:16 PM

      I don’t like the idea of the SG’s creating another Cup for the same reason I don’t like the idea of letting the bully get away with stealing lunch money.

      • valiantdraws - Jan 18, 2013 at 5:09 PM

        I only suggest this is MLS wins out.

  3. zoophagous - Jan 18, 2013 at 2:42 PM

    “… much of the Cascadia Cup’s current (and future) prestige is tied to the league’s promotion of the trophy….”

    No. This is where those who are not part of a Cascadia supporter group go astray. The Cascadia Cup is ours. We do not care what if any prestige it has outside of ECS, TA, Southsiders. The prestige within the context of MLS’ rivalry week is completely moot to us.

    The Cup is for bragging rights up and down I-5. It was there before MLS, it will be there regardless of what MLS does. It is a tangible symbol of the rivalry between our clubs. Frankly I found it odd that MLS was promoting it at all. Why should Sons of Ben care about the Cascadia Cup?

    The prestige of the Cup lay within the supporters groups who created it. For myself the prestige stems from listening to one of the founders of ECS tell the history of the Cup from the front of a bus travelling down I-5 on my first away trip to Portland. A story told with reverence and a deep sense of history. The prestige is the history of the rivalry. It can mean nothing to everyone outside our three cities, it will always be important to us. And we don’t care what it means to others. With all due respect it’s not a trophy for the Cauldron, or Sons of Ben or ACB, or Screaming Eagles. It’s not a Cup for MLS. It’s our Cup. The Cup is carried from match to match by supporters. It is awarded by supporters to supporters.

    If the MLS succeeds in trademarking it I hope TA, ECS and Southsiders simply disregard the Cup and create a new trophy. If MLS succeeds it will be a Pyrrhic victory. At the risk of being presumptuous I don’t believe the Cascadia supporters groups will support an MLS sponsored cup. It wouldn’t be the same.

    • charliej11 - Jan 18, 2013 at 3:05 PM

      Amen, zoophagous

      ” much of the Cascadia Cup’s current (and future) prestige is tied to the league’s promotion of the trophy. ”

      Wrong, because if MLS went belly up, the Cup would still go on
      Wrong, because the rivalry had prestige 20 years before MLS
      Wrong, because your looking that prestige it has in NY ( or where ever you live ), not the prestige is has in the greatest soccer stadium in the world ( CLink )
      Wrong, because like zoophagous said we don’t care if it is prestigous to you.
      *I will add…..You didn’t care in 1970s, 80s, 90s, or even the 2000s..and you won’t care if it becomes small time again.

      • drchale - Jan 18, 2013 at 5:11 PM

        I’m sorry, but calling CenturyLink TurfField the greatest soccer stadium in the world is laughable.

  4. charliej11 - Jan 18, 2013 at 2:52 PM

    A week or so ago, I typed out that the SGs should calm down. MLS could be helping them.
    Garber just dispelled that, the way that I see it. He starts out good, MLS will protect the Cascadia Cup name ( something that the ECS, etc can’t do ), then he flips over and says the SGs might use the name.

    So what ? It is their Cup. Absolutely, no questions, already owned. They can’t have the Sounders, Timber, Whitecaps logo on there, as part of any using the name, MLS owns that.

    Insane. MLS is being very stupid.
    David Sterne Part II. How is Seattle working out for you Sterne, I haven’t watched a NBA game since…I don’t even know or care when they left. ( 2008 ?)

  5. DJ MC - Jan 18, 2013 at 2:54 PM

    The eventual solution to this problem will be interesting, because this is one of those places where the traditions of soccer as a sport–openness and an emphasis on the rights of supporters–clash with the traditions of American sports organization–closed and an emphasis on business.

  6. dws110 - Jan 18, 2013 at 2:55 PM

    There are so many things wrong with the way MLS is handling this that it’s impossible to detail them in a comment. At no point prior to filing the Canadian trademark application did MLS contact any of the three supporters groups in question with concerns about “managing” the Cascadia Cup. MLS did not notify any of the three supporters groups that they had filed the trademark application. MLS still has not been in touch with any of the three supporters groups that created the Cup. Why?

    Garber’s latest comments should fill every supporter of any club with dread. He talks about vague fears of “managing” the brand, “offering” it to approved MLS sponsors, and “controlling” it; but they’re utterly baseless. Where does this assumption come from that the SG’s will seek corporate sponsorship or merchandising tie-ins to the Cup come from? He’s fear-mongering that somehow the SG’s will tarnish MLS by, what, offering a Cup sponsorship to Nike? Really? That’s why we’re supposed to trust that MLS will properly “manage” the brand? My first rebuttal to that is to point to the (seriously not kidding) Subaru Rocky Mountain Cup.

    In my opinion, Cascadia supporters are correct to fear that MLS is attempting to take control of the Cascadia Cup in order to “properly” market and financially exploit the rivalry. Based on the history of the Cup and the current stance of all three supporters groups, MLS is the only party interested in marketing and exploiting the Cup. #GrandTheftCascadia

  7. wesbadia - Jan 18, 2013 at 2:57 PM

    This whole battle just underlines the silliness of IP laws. It’s not about “protecting property”; in fact, IP laws are designed to give to the owner of the “right” further rights to the property of non-owners. In other words, the IP owner is given state privilege to dictate what non-owners do with their own property, whether it be computers, printers, ink, pen, paper, CD burner, CDs, etc ad nauseum.

    Borg used the example of some unaffiliated dude in his basement copyrighting the Cascadia Cup and doing heinous things to it. In what world? Only a world governed by IP and state privilege. In a world NOT governed by IP or state privilege, that dude would just be some dude, sitting in his basement selling rip offs of the actual thing.

    True property comes from labor. The guy in his basement will only ever get so far trying to make money off of knock off Cascadia Cup apparel, etc. The only ones that would get the attention would be the Cascadia teams and MLS itself because it’s promoting both entities. If that arrangement comes into conflict with MLS and its contracts with partners and sponsorships, then it’s the market shifting in favor of something other than what MLS is providing. And the only result of this would be a better product; something that more people enjoy.

    The current situation (and any result thereof) will only result in lose-lose. MLS will not reap unrealized profits from an open approach, and Cascadian teams will not have free access to something they created and fostered. No one wins. The best thing for each party would be if IP laws didn’t exist. Unfortunately, they seem to remain content with buying into this monolithic state apparatus we live under. For shame…

  8. florean - Jan 18, 2013 at 3:00 PM

    Major League Soccer could create a replacement trophy, start promoting it, and slowly ween its three franchises away from any implicit promotion of something the league can’t control.

    Perfect solution. MLS doesn’t steal something they didn’t create and don’t own, but instead get to create something themselves and have all the legal rights such creation entails. Here’s another solution: I’m sure the supporter’s groups would be willing to grant MLS a license to use the term in their promotion of the Cup. We just wouldn’t allow them to sell corporate sponsorship or merchandise.

    You’re a journalist, right? The big question you should be asking is why did MLS only apply for a trademark in Canada? I suspect I know why: because in the US you have to swear under oath that you own the rights to the trademark. It is much easier to get it in Canada and then import it into the US. It’s a much lower bar. But I’d be curious what the league position is on that.

    • wesbadia - Jan 18, 2013 at 3:10 PM

      I like that solution, too. May the best cup win. It has free market written all over it, and the fans (ie, consumers) decide what they like best.

  9. dfstell - Jan 18, 2013 at 3:51 PM

    First, I’m not really sure how MLS is going to be successful registering a trademark for this. In the US, they would have to show that they were the first to use the name with the associated products or services in interstate commerce. Clearly, MLS would have a hard time doing that because MLS hasn’t been using the name. Maybe Canadian laws are different?

    I can see some point is managing the trademark better or at least ensuring that it is always well-managed. Even if the trademark isn’t registered, whoever is responsible for the name should be taking steps to stop bootleggers because if they don’t, they’ll lose the ability to prevent misuse of the name by someone they might really care about. Without a trademark, any two other clubs could decide to start playing for the Cascadia Cup. I know that the supporter’s laugh at the idea of something like that happening, but trust me….your cup isn’t THAT relevant. Given where soccer is in the United States, nobody knows what an Cascadia Cup is, so if some other group started using that name and found greater success with it, their usage might become the dominant one.

    Even with all that….MLS loses massive points for style. I mean, all IP transactions should revolve around good and timely communication and they’re not doing that.

    Or….maybe they’re just trolling the northwest supporter’s groups because it’s so easy?

  10. crnelson10 - Jan 18, 2013 at 4:30 PM

    This reeks of knee-jerk anti-corporatism. MLS isn’t monsato, guys.

  11. pensfan603 - Jan 18, 2013 at 6:02 PM

    If Garber tried to do this in any other sport it would have no affect but because its the mls it does. They try to buy the rights and The supporters some how find a way to take offense to that, to me its silly and in my mind the real bullies hear are the supporters who are using there leverage with the amount of fans they have their and pushing Garber around. If they were smart though they would resolve it in a 50/50 Buying of the Trade mark so the MLS, including nbc and whatever would have rights to it, but so that the supports for whatever reason would remain happy, because again for whatever reason they get way to offended by the mls trying to protect something of theirs. It really irks me that Don Garber does all this stuff for the supports and fans of the Sport and if he does the smallest thing to change it no matter what the intention fans like that jump on his ass. If they had Gary Betman, or any other commissioner their probably wouldnt be an mls they need to lighten up.
    To me this is just another example of Portland and Seattle think they are better then the MLS as a whole and are more important. Need to get off their ego ride, Seattle Portland.

    • dws110 - Jan 18, 2013 at 6:24 PM

      It is offensive to the three supporters groups who actually created the Cascadia Cup (not the league, not the teams, just the three supporters groups) that MLS would attempt to trademark the Cup without letting the SG’s know.

      It is offensive to assume that the three SG’s are incapable of protecting the image and reputation of the Cup, an image and reputation that the three SG’s alone are responsible for building in the first place, and that they would be incapable of doing so without MLS controlling the brand.

      It is patently offensive to assume that the three SG’s would peddle sponsorship or marketing rights to THEIR CUP in the first place.

      It is offensive in the extreme to assume that the three SG’s are primarily motivated by monetizing or exploiting their own trophy.

      • florean - Jan 19, 2013 at 4:54 AM

        Good job on correctly using “their” and “there”. And punctuation. You’d think the league could afford to hire trolls with a grade school understanding of English. Perhaps that is why they need the sponsorship dollars for the Cascadia Cup.

    • valiantdraws - Jan 18, 2013 at 6:41 PM

      Also…Portland and Seattle ARE more important.

  12. pensfan603 - Jan 18, 2013 at 7:46 PM

    ya cause ya know that .7 tv rating really helps
    The timbers, and sounders are important but they arent that important, there are tons of clubs in the mls that draw just as good of crowds, and portalnd and seattle both have bad youth academies and neither bring in big players, all they do is make a lot of money for them selfs not the league.
    And i dont think the mls is trying to “offend” the fans they were just trying to keep the cup in tacks, and looking ofr the better of the league.

    Anyways why should the league trust the Supports they cant even be adultish about voting for MLS goal of the year, or any mls poll, instead of voting for the proper choice you ust vote for your favorite team, i get team pride and all but come on.
    Stuff like that is what makes the mls lose respect for the timbers and Sounders fans.

    • corgster - Jan 18, 2013 at 8:03 PM

      You lose the argument claiming bad academies.

      The Timbers were two years too late to MLS to start an academy and sign Eric Hurtado to an HG contract. He went seventh in yesterday’s draft.

  13. jjkusowski - Jan 18, 2013 at 8:03 PM

    I would really like to hear the opinion of the teams’ owners on this. Particularly Paulson and Roth.

    • blaesings - Jan 18, 2013 at 10:45 PM

      Via Twitter, Paulson has said he can’t speak publically, but has been in touch with the Timbers Army. (107ist)

      • blaesings - Jan 18, 2013 at 10:46 PM

        OMG… publicly. 😦

      • randomhandle1 - Jan 21, 2013 at 9:02 AM

        “Publicly” and “publically” are both acceptable.

        Now, “pubicly,” on the other hand…

  14. jelliot1978 - Jan 18, 2013 at 8:15 PM

    Question, when was the Cascadia cup created? I think that the other supporters groups need to be reached out to so some protest can be done. It was done in Philly after NE kicked out members of the fort and it can be done for this can use the year it was created or something like that to mark when it is done.

    • blaesings - Jan 18, 2013 at 10:47 PM

      The Cup was created in 2004, prior to any of the three teams being involved with ML$.

      • jelliot1978 - Jan 24, 2013 at 4:13 PM

        great, thanks, if it doesn’t get resolved properly you can try to see if the other supporters groups would do something at the 20:04 mark (though to be honest I doubt Philly would do anything at that time frame because they sing ‘Im lookin over a 4 leaf clover’ at 2010).

  15. blaesings - Jan 18, 2013 at 10:44 PM

    Impasse? It’s not like we are having negotiations. Grabber is trying to steal something that is not his, and our supporters groups are telling him to back the F*@k away from our cup.

    • pensfan603 - Jan 19, 2013 at 8:15 AM

      I cant wait for some private company to steal it from you so then you can be like “oh we should of listened to garber”

  16. kb57 - Jan 19, 2013 at 2:44 AM

    Time for the Cascadians to grow up.

    • pensfan603 - Jan 19, 2013 at 8:12 AM

      Don Garber “Now Just because you dont like a team doesnt mean you should boo their pick, this is about the players” *stairs at portland and Seattle fans*

  17. florean - Jan 19, 2013 at 5:02 AM

    Wow, I can’t believe the juvenile pro-MLS comments in this thread. Can anyone explain to me how the MLS owns something created by the fans 5 years before any of the teams involved joined MLS? I get it, there isn’t any way to justify MLS’ position. How about giving us an example of these entities trying to exploit the Cup that MLS is so keen to protect us against? Oh, you can’t do that, either. Well then, just continue insulting the supporter’s groups, MLS trolls.

    • pensfan603 - Jan 19, 2013 at 8:07 AM

      How are we the Juvenile ones, you are complaining cause mls wants to trademark the rights to a cup, they are trying ot help protect you and you some how take a offense to that like a buch of 5 year olds, I’m sorry but really the mls isnt trying to destroy your cup Don Garber wants to grow the sport. Stop acting like babies this is for the better of Cascadia and better for the MLS, they need a trademark and the MLS has to be involved in it, like i said before the best way is some kind of split just so the cascadia supports dont get offended, but the mls needs to be in on it or else they cant report on it, they cant say it on national tv, and what does that do for the sport it kills it, and if you do nothing about it, then some other private entity could steal the trademark and the MLS and Supports Groups would be left with nothing. Get over it this is a business and the mls needs to make money, and they need the trademark on the Cascadia cup for that.

      • donkeygonga - Jan 19, 2013 at 2:05 PM

        You are an idiot pensfan603!!!! MLS is not looking out for us! They want to trademark it for money and nothing else. Cascadia teams create cascadia merch ,which MLS wants and if they own the mark the supporters group will be sued by MLS will sue if any merch gets made. Also they want to get a corporate sponsor for the cup so MLS gets all the money and MLS had nothing to do with the cup. If the league folded the cup would still exist because the supporters will still be around to continue our traditions with our own amateur soccer team or a lower tier team that may exist in another league.

  18. pensfan603 - Jan 19, 2013 at 8:18 AM

    florean – Jan 19, 2013 at 4:54 AM
    Good job on correctly using “their” and “there”. And punctuation. You’d think the league could afford to hire trolls with a grade school understanding of English. Perhaps that is why they need the sponsorship dollars for the Cascadia Cup.

    Good thing the Seattle/Portland Fans know their grammar because they sure as hell dont know class

    • camjam3113 - Jan 19, 2013 at 1:41 PM

      Maybe, just maybe, before you hurl insults, you should read the article. The basis of your argument as I can tell, is that Cascadia cup should give up because MLS is just protecting it’s “rights”. From the article:

      “With the recent creation of the Cascadia Cup Council — an umbrella organization that’s also seeking the U.S. and Canadian trademarks”

      A trademark, just so you know, protects other companies from using something that can be legally claimed by a person/company. For example, Cascadia created the cup, owns the cup, and has no association with MLS. They don’t need any “protection”….. they’re doing that themselves.

      Lastly, I’ve re read all of florean’s posts and I personally see no misuse of a “their” or a “there”. Might be a better idea to keep those insults to yourself next time.

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