Ask any baseball fan, “Who is the Evil Empire in baseball?” and they will undoubtedly answer, “the New York Yankees”. The New York Yankees have been extensively referred to by the press, media, public, and even their own fans as the “Evil Empire”. The coining of the phrase itself, in connection with the Yankees, is attributed to Red Sox president Larry Lucchino in 2002. Yet despite its clear negative implication (the previous Evil Empire in American lingo was the USSR in the 1980’s), the Yankees and their fans have embraced the term, even playing the well-known empire music from Star Wars during home games. So important has this name become to the Yankees that when a small company in Wainscott, New York filed an application in 2008 to register “Baseballs Evil Empire” as a trademark to sell clothing and hats, the Yankees filed an opposition to try to prevent the registration. The opposition was filed after the trademark office determined that “Baseballs Evil Empire” was eligible for registration. The Yankees do not actually have a registrered trademark to the term “Baseballs Evil Empire” or to anything like it, nor have they applied for one, but that does not mean they cannot oppose the registration.
The Wainscott company was displaying images on its website that were clearly deragatory knock offs of the Yankees’ logos, such as the overlapping N and Y, but with a devil head coming out of the top of the Y, and another famous Yankees logo with a pitchfork in place of the red, white, and blue Yankees hat. They were marketing these products to baseball fans. The Yankees argued that such use would be harmful to the Yankees. However, it seems the most important and convincing evidence to the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board was the fact that so many Yankees fans, and even the Yankees themselves, have embraced the term that it now has a positive association among Yankees fans. The Board, in siding with the Yankees, found that the use by the other company of even these obviously derogatory images of the Yankees’ logos would likely cause confusion among consumers and lead consumers to believe that perhaps the T-shirts were connected with the New York Yankees organization. Had the Yankees not been able to demonstrate that they and their fans have long embraced the term “Evil Empire”, this other company may well have prevailed on the grounds that their use was a parody and that there is no way anyone would think their merchandise was endorsed by the New York Yankees when it is so derogatory.
By demonstrating that the New York Yankees and their fans have embraced the term that was originally intended as a slur by the team’s arch rival, the Yankees were able to convince a panel of judges at the trademark office that the registration of “Baseballs Evil Empire” should not be granted.