Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer is a mythical character without the ability to choose his endorsement deals. Still, Rudy is represented by Character Arts. Those who wish to license his likeness can put together a proposal and try to obtain approval.
Last October, a local sports marketing firm had this brilliant idea to obtain licensing for Rudolph and the Boston Red Sox and create a children’s story book where David Ortiz Helps Rudolph Save Christmas. All the proceeds from the sale of the book would support his charitable foundation. They were unable to come to terms with David, so they approached the Boston Red Sox with the story idea instead. Ultimately, however, the deal fell through because Character Arts was unable to provide licensing for Rudolph’s usage.
As explained by Ashish Sharma from Character Arts to the agency: “I spoke with the team and in short, while we love the idea, the charitable component and the baseball players involved, we cannot move forward due to the fact that Rudolph has not never [sic] been brought out of the fictional realm.” Sharma added “When it comes to the brand, we are very careful to safeguard its current mythological reverence and this often leads to having to make tough decisions such as this one.”
So imagine their surprise when this December, the Red Sox distributed their online holiday announcement as a partnership between the team and Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. There was no charitable component. The team’s online greeting card was a branding initiative. It told the story of how minor leaguers teased Rudolph, but how the scouts thought he could go pro. The problem is, you can never go pro if you don’t have a deal.
And the Red Sox never had one.
After seeing the online promotion, they contacted Character Arts to inquire. An excerpt from the letter:
“We had discussed the opportunity of linking together Rudolph with the Boston Red Sox last year, and I know that you mentioned that was not something you were able to do. Then today, this message was distributed to their fans, and it currently is posted on their website. I’m wondering what changed.” Then it added, “We are disappointed that our concept and presentation seems to have been leveraged without our involvement.”
Well, it turns out the Red Sox liked the idea too much to let lack of a license slow them down, and they opted to proceed anyhow. According to Sharma later that same evening, there was still no deal. “Nothing has changed (and thank you for bringing this to our attention) – this use is unauthorized and will be dealt with appropriately.”
I’m going to now take a deep breath for a moment.
Those who work in sports marketing only do so because they aren’t good enough to still be playing. They have a passion for the game, and want to do whatever they can to still be a part of it, for as long as possible. Their entire value is tied to their ideas, and execution of those ideas. After all, if you knock those ideas out of the park, you win.
This sports marketing company, which has asked to remain confidential, is a little unique compared to other sports organizations. They are in business to help teams and their athletes raise money for their favorite causes. They don’t make a percentage off a player’s salary or endorsement deal, and they don’t earn a dime selling advertising or stadium signage to fans who already pay a premium for tickets and concessions. Everything this company does is tied to coming up with ideas, sharing them with teams and athletes, and then implementing those ideas so we can help them raise money.
It is with deep sadness that on one particular occasion, the idea this company pitched to a team for charity was declined, and then subsequently implemented without their involvement for profit or brand gain. This strikes me as somewhat greedy, and also as highly unethical. It is even more frustrating when the idea was tied to holiday giving, and that benefit was taken away at the hands of a team that has been honored and respected for a lifetime.
But more troubling is that no organization is stricter in regards to usage of names and logos than Major League Baseball. And they should be – there is a lot of equity invested in those brand marks. And yet, a team within this organization ignored this when they leveraged the name, logo, and song of a property owned by Character Arts.
What were the Red Sox thinking?
They stole an idea, didn’t provide a credit for where the idea came from, used it without rights, and posted it for brand gain – all while eliminating the charitable component, which was the whole purpose of the concept to begin with.
The moral of my story is: Be ethical.
Small companies and idea guys are not going to get patents and copyrights every time they have a good idea. They are going to take these ideas to those who benefit, with the hope that if the idea is accepted, they will have a chance to implement it. To those of you who work in sports, I urge you: don’t steal ideas. It is the same as stealing. And when you’re caught stealing, you will be outed.