By Esha Peer ('21)
A school apparel seller to Stop and Shop has been selling South Brunswick merchandise for around 7 years. It may be selling the school apparel without permission.
Most South Brunswick High School merchandise is sold through the school itself, directly to students and community members from the Activities Office, clubs or sports.
“We do most of our fundraising through sports groups,” said Ms. Elaine McGrath, Director of Athletics. “Most of our fundraising is team-oriented.”
At Stop and Shop, a rack is dedicated to selling South Brunswick merchandise, including shirts, hats, and sweatpants. The rack also differentiates among designs for children, men, and women. The rack was set up by a company called My Town Originals. The company is one of many that provides stores with school apparel designed by them.
My Town Originals claims to have partnered with many schools, though the number is unclear, donating over $5 million to schools nationwide. Depending on the total amount of schools My Town Originals is partnered with, this number may not be as significant as it seems divided between schools.
When questioned about the reason My Town Originals sells Viking merchandise, the company claimed they have a contract signed by Mr. David Pawloski, Business Administrator of South Brunswick.
Mr. Pawloski stated, “I'm not recalling any conversations with My Town Originals... please do not sign any agreements with any vendors as only the Business Administrator can contract with vendors.”
In an article from nj.com, journalist Matthew Stanmyre addressed other companies that have been doing this for years, including Spirit Shop, Jostens, Rokkitwear, Spirit School Apparel and Prep Sportswear.
These companies may have agreements with some schools, but online stores sometimes use unlicensed logos to create more revenue without giving the schools their fair share. In fact, according to NJ.com, at least five major online retailers sell merchandise for almost all of New Jersey’s 430-plus high schools that are athletically competitive and most of the time without the school’s approval. However, not all schools have proper licensing on their logos, so their entitlement to the logo is open for debate.
The action to take seems simple: schools should get licensing for their logos in order to stop losing revenue. Even this choice though, has some consequences.
Most high schools license through K12 Licensing. The company is approved by The National Federation of State High School Associations, the organization which writes the rules for sports and activities in the U.S. The organization allows a school to file lawsuits in case a third party is using the logo without permission. K12 Licensing is a division of Learfield Licensing Partners, a corporation which licenses over 635 colleges and universities across the United States, according to general manager Jared Harding.
Even with the protection, schools are not saving that much money from paying for licensing. Divided among the schools which have licensing, the average school gets $77 in royalties. Also, schools are given profits based on 10% of the wholesale price. Basically, if a shirt is sold for $20 and the wholesale price is $5, schools only make 50 cents. Fundraising from apparel should be raising thousands of dollars a year, but even with licensing most schools are losing out.
According to My Town Originals, they have donated $5 million in royalties to all the schools partnered with them. They even have testimonials on the website from different schools who have sold apparel through the company.
A testimonial about My Town Originals allegedly from Southern Lehigh School District said,“I sincerely thank you for supporting some of these causes. I hope that you will continue to be one of our community partners.”
The quotation is not attributed to any one person from the school district, nor did it directly state the name of the company
Licensing for schools can get a little blurry when considering the actual laws regarding it. According to AZ Central, for example, “to protect your image, you must prove that the logo is original and that you have the rights to the design.”
South Brunswick’s Viking logo originates from the Minnesota Vikings logo, an NFL team. So can South Brunswick really license their logo?
Licensing with the logo of an NFL team must be done with approval of that team. In order to be licensed, the logo and colors for the school must be original. The symbol of the vikings is what is used by the NFL, and based on Upcounsel, the NFL holds the power to shut schools down for copyright infringement. Trademarks without approval are not allowed; a small business using it must have a license. However, many schools have not been shut down for using the trademarked logos in the past. The only only worry NFL can have is if their logo becomes public domain without protecting its rights. If schools don’t sell too much out of their area, it is unlikely the sales will be enough to make a dent in their profits. But with the growing number of online sales, it is becoming a larger issue. This isn’t just a problem for the NFL, but also for colleges.
The issue of licensing between colleges and high schools is becoming a larger conflict through the years. Based on an article by the NFHS, colleges and universities are becoming more strict on the use of their own logos. In order to stop high schools from using these logos, the colleges send out “cease-and-desist” letters high schools for using their colors, logo, ect. High schools which have been using these for years are now being charged of copyright infringement.
The issue of trademarks may seem small from afar, but when looking into it, there are a lot of different problems. First, schools do not always have the logos trademarked because many use the NFL and college trademarks. Then when online websites use these logos, schools may not even be able to do anything about it Even if the schools have their logos trademarked and using it legally, revenue tends to be very low. The only pro is protection of it. It’s a loophole of laws and rights schools must follow.
The questions about trademarks remain, but one thing is clear: school logos are an important part of revenue for the school, and knowing about the legality of third-party companies’ use of these logos is necessary to keep from losing money for events.