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Unlicensed corporate logos could prove costly
By Darren Rovell
ESPN.com

NEW ORLEANS -- New England Patriots offensive lineman Mike Compton walked into the Superdome for Media Day on Tuesday morning, and promptly started answering questions -- from the licensing police.

As the players picked out their choice of hats from the locker room before meeting the media, Compton -- a Nike endorser -- colored over the Reebok logo with a marking pen. When the licensing police pulled him over, Compton was fortunate to receive only a warning.

"Nobody reminded us about this for Super Bowl week," Compton said.

Compton grabbed a new visor, sporting an unaltered Reebok logo, and saved himself a $100,000 fine, which is five times the fine for wearing a crossed-out Reebok vector during a regular-season game.

"The fine is so stiff because the NFL wants to send a message that it doesn't want companies ambushing them," said Eddie White, vice president of team properties for Reebok, "just as FOX doesn't want to be ambushed by a company who pays a player to wear a hat while stretching in the pregame show."

So-called "ambush" marketing, with unofficial sponsors trying to hone in on turf paid for by official licensees, is becoming more popular. And the licensing cops are becoming more savvy in dealing with it.

As part of its deal with Reebok, the NFL began to more seriously police the sidelines this year to make sure that players weren't defacing the logos of corporate partners or wearing caps of companies that had nothing to do with the league.

In the preseason, Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Randy Moss, also a Nike endorser, was fined $5,000 for crossing out a Reebok logo during one game and wearing an unlicensed "Three-Deep" (standing for Moss, Cris Carter and Jake Reed) hat during another game.

Nike-endorsed players have the option of wearing Reebok hats that don't show the Reebok vector logo on them, said Brian McCarthy, the league's director of corporate communications.

Outside of Compton's brief infraction, Media Day passed without incident. But it was almost odd to not see players wearing hats from barely known companies trying to get some exposure. Last year, the Ravens' Tony Siragusa wore a cap from wireless software company, Aether, and the Giants' Jason Sehorn wore a black Met-Rx hat throughout Super Bowl week.

"We all know who comes to this game," said St. Louis Rams safety Kim Herring, "the corporate sponsors, so we have to be good to them."

As part of its relationship with Reebok, the NFL also included a "90-minute rule," which specified that players couldn't sport the corporate logo of a non-NFL sponsor during postgame interviews until 90 minutes after the game, according to Clay Walker, senior vice president of marketing for the NFL Players Association. Walker said the Players Association agreed to the stringent rules because the Reebok deal provides as much as $1 million per team per year, ultimately helping raise the salary cap.

Ironically, the Patriots are one of five teams that are not outfitted by Reebok. Adidas makes the Patriots jerseys, as well as those of the San Diego Chargers, San Francisco 49ers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Washington Redskins. Next year, all 32 teams will be outfitted by Reebok.

Although at least eight players from both teams said they didn't know about the $100,000 Super Bowl fine, they were happy to find out that they hadn't violated the rule. All but St. Louis Rams wide receiver Az-Zahir Hakim said the cost of the fine should deter any player from wearing an unlicensed hat in the future.

"I'll wear some company's hat as long as they pay my fine," Hakim said. "Plus a little bit more, of course."

Darren Rovell, who covers sports business for ESPN.com, can be reached at darren.rovell@espn.com.



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