Legacy Status: Dan Snyders use of RFK for Redskins marketing is in a legal gray area. s use of RFK for Redskins marketing is in a legal gray area.
Legacy Status: Dan Snyders use of RFK for Redskins marketing is in a legal gray area. s use of RFK for Redskins marketing is in a legal gray area. Credit: Photo by Darrow Montgomery

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On Monday, the Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools complex opened in Los Angeles. The five-story complex is hailed as the most expensive public school in history, costing more than half a billion dollars to build. The new facility will house nearly 4,000 kids in grades K–12.

One night earlier, the RFK Standing Stomping Club made its regular season debut in Landover, above the end zones of FedExField. Redskins owner Dan Snyder will use the new sections to sell the costliest standing-room-only tickets in the history of local sports and entertainment. The marketing pitch describes a “party deck” with access to a cigar bar, Hooters girls and admission to a weekly “5th Quarter Party” that features a chance to rub elbows with cheerleaders.

The Kennedy estate gave its blessing to just one of the projects.

Guess which?

“Neither the RFK Center nor the RFK family have given rights to the name [to Dan Snyder],” says Lynn Delaney, executive director of the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Center for Justice and Human Rights. That’s the D.C.-based foundation established by Kennedy’s family and friends in October 1968, mere months after the former U.S. attorney general and presidential candidate was slain at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, the site of the newly opened education campus. The group’s stated mission is to “advance respect for human rights and social justice for all people.”

Delaney says: “We work with human rights groups on the ground in 27 countries to spread that message.”

So, is that do-gooder objective promoted by having the initials “RFK” attached—by the owner of a team named the “Redskins”—to the home of a Hooters?

“No, it’s not,” says Delaney. “Absolutely not.”

Several weeks ago, the Redskins sent a mass e-mail advertising the RFK Standing Stomping Club to season ticketholders and others on the team’s marketing lists. The e-mail was signed by Redskins chief marketing officer Mitch Gershman. A page offering the special RFK tickets for sale via Ticketmaster for $152.50 then appeared on the team’s official website.

Nobody from the Redskins, Delaney says, discussed the marketing gimmick with anybody associated with the Kennedys before the RFK tickets went on sale. She says until she got a call from Washington City Paper last week, neither her group nor the estate was aware of the RFK Standing Stomping Club.

David Donovan, the Redskins chief operating officer and the guy who has handled the team’s past intellectual property matters, did not respond to a request for comment about the use of “RFK.”

Snyder’s use of a name he doesn’t own is particularly interesting given his obsession with trademarks. Nobody is more aware of the value of a name than the Redskins owner. In 1999, shortly after buying the team, he sold the naming rights to what was called Jack Kent Cooke Stadium to FedEx for $7.6 million per year through 2025. Then he set out to stop local TV stations from using the word “Redskins” to promote any news segments without paying him first. Beginning in the 2000 preseason, those who didn’t pay were penalized: “We spent the [2000] season shooting in the Redskins Park parking lot,” recalls Rene Knott, former sportscaster for WJLA, the only news operation from a network affiliate in this market that refused Snyder’s demands.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s database offers ample evidence of Snyder’s fetish for intellectual property. He registered the trademark “First Ladies of Football” for his team’s cheerleaders, for example, and during his tenure as chairman of the board of Six Flags actually filed papers with the feds claiming ownership of “Daycation,” “You Are Here” and both “Pay Like a Kid. Play Like a Kid” and “Play Like a Kid. Pay Like a Kid” for the amusement park chain.

So Snyder knows “RFK” is gold. Especially to area football fans.

Among the first things ever named for the slain statesman, of course, was the football stadium where the Redskins had played since 1961. In June 1969, during a ceremony that featured local hero QB Sonny Jurgensen leading a football clinic for underprivileged youngsters, the then-federally owned facility officially went from being called “District of Columbia Stadium” to “Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium.”

Of course, it’s the good memories of that stadium, rather than the good name of the liberal icon, that Snyder wants to exploit in order to sell pricey SRO tickets to the Redskins current home. During their 36 years at RFK Stadium, the Redskins won three Super Bowls—a status they haven’t enjoyed since decamping to Landover.

Unfortunately, the Washington Convention and Sports Authority, the quasi-governmental agency that now owns and operates RFK Stadium, says Snyder never called to ask for permission, or let them know he’d be nicking the name, either.

The RFK Stadium crowd, however, doesn’t act like it’s ready to rumble with the Redskins over the new party deck’s familiar name.

“Most people would probably tell you that most of the great memories of the Redskins were made on the field at RFK,” says Erik Moses, managing director of WCSA’s Sports, Entertainment and Special Events Division. “I think conjuring that and all the good feelings is part of the team’s history. Next year is the 50th anniversary of that stadium, and we’re hoping to honor that legacy. If the Redskins are making people conjure the name RFK, that’s not a bad thing for us.”

Even if the stadium folks were peeved, their legal standing in a squabble with Snyder over the name is dubious. One intellectual property attorney I spoke with says that Snyder has a decent chance of getting away with using “RFK” without securing a license from anybody.

“I think it’s a pretty shrewd move by Dan Snyder,” says the attorney, who requested anonymity. “You are allowed to use something in a name that’s a descriptor, so if there were sections in the old stadium where folks were standing and stomping, he could allude to that, so I don’t know what claim [WCSA] would have. The Kennedy family foundation would have a better claim here, but, well, he was a politician, a historic public official, so it’s not like [Snyder] is using ‘Elvis Presley’ in the name. This is a very gray legal area.”

So, perhaps something other than hangovers will come out of Snyder’s new party deck. Like, say, legal precedent: Delaney says attorneys for the RFK Memorial Center for Justice and Human Rights will “look into” the RFK Standing Stomping Club situation this week.

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