It started as a joke, then turned into a hobby. Six years later, it has also turned Martin McCaulay into, potentially, a key player in Washington's quest to trademark a new name for its football team.
McCaulay has filed for 44 different trademark applications of names Washington, ostensibly, could choose. His latest filing, on July 8: the Washington Red Wolves. That joins a list including Red Tails, Monuments, Veterans, Red-tailed Hawks, Americans, Braves and Renegades. There's also the Freedom Fighters and the Radskins.
Washington announced on Monday it had retired its previous name. It might not be nameless for too long. It also might be trying to trademark a name that McCaulay either might own or one for which he has already submitted an application.
"They'll probably use one of my names," he said.
In 2014, when speculation focused on a new name for Washington's NFL team, McCaulay noticed people filing for trademark applications on what he considered joke names. So he joined in, registering for the name "Washington Pigskins." A love for trademark applications was born. Each application costs $275, which he considers the cost of his hobby.
The 61-year-old actuary, who has also written books on real estate, lives in Alexandria, Virginia, and is a fan of the Washington team. But McCaulay says the money he saves from not attending games gets spent on trademarks.
In many cases, the fans who submitted for trademarks let the application die because they have no intent on doing anything commercially with the name. But McCaulay took it one step further, buying 100 Pigskin coffee mugs and putting them for sale online to meet a requirement that helped get the name registered. He said the NFL's trademark attorney sent him a letter, saying they would allow the name.
As he collected names, McCaulay added to his merchandise to make it appear as if he were using the trademark. He created a website, WashingtonAmericansFootball.com, to sell his wares. But he really had no interest in the hassle of doing so; he didn't want the headaches of packing up the goods and shipping them and collecting income tax, so he abandoned those efforts.
"I said, if you want to come get this stuff, it's free," he said. "I gave the rest to charity. I kept a few mugs and coasters. I lost interest in the hobby and never sold anything."
The trademarks are good as long as the trademark owner is using it for commerce, and trademarks don't allow for squatter's rights. Because of renewed talk about Washington's name, McCaulay again showed interest in the trademark game. He got back to work: He'd check the odds on various names and snatch up what he could.
In some ways he could present a hurdle for Washington, but he also could make the franchise's life easier if it wants one of his names.
McCaulay said that on July 4 he told the NFL via email it could have his trademarks for free. He said the league never responded.
McCaulay said he never went into this venture to make money, but he said, "If they'd like to make me an offer, I will entertain the offer." But he also told Darren Heitner, the founder of Heitner Legal with an emphasis on sports, entertainment, intellectual property litigation and transactional work, that he has joked with the NFL about paying it to take the trademark.
However, McCaulay has made it clear he has no desire to profit off the trademark. A transaction could go for $1.
But McCaulay knows it won't go like that. Washington can still file a trademark. Once it does, regardless of the name, it will take three months to reach a trademark attorney. If it's one of McCaulay's names, the franchise would need to contact him. Washington could, as McCaulay said, bully him by requesting he cancel his trademark. It would likely then be tied up until 2022.
He does not want to be the reason Washington fails to secure the name it wants.
"There's been some criticism on my involvement," McCaulay said. "I think I'm doing them a solid. I've reserved a lot of names and registered, and to me that's an easy transaction; you can use my registered trademark. ... If you want to use one that's already registered, that seems like a way to facilitate the name change."
McCaulay said he hopes his hobby helps lead to a new name for the NFL team.
Dear Mr. Snyder,— Darren Heitner (@DarrenHeitner) July 15, 2020
Mr. McCaulay has retained @HEITNERLEGAL to assist you and your organization should you be interested in rebranding to a mark owned by our client. Mr. McCaulay will gladly do whatever is in his power to clear a path for the Washington NFL team to rebrand itself. pic.twitter.com/bnJvJlZMTh
"I know Native Americans tried for decades, saying the name is insensitive, and they had no success getting the name changed," he said. "Now the topic seems to be trademarks. If I can do my little piece and get the name changed and all I have to do is say 'Use my trademarks,' that's good. I'm not the holdup."
One possible name, the Red Wolves, could pose a problem. Arkansas State uses the name and last fall sent a cease and desist letter to the Chattanooga Red Wolves soccer team. Heitner said that case might continue into 2021.
"That's not what a team wants to have," Heitner said. "You don't want a legal dispute."
Heitner said if that's the name Washington wants, the team could be discussing it behind the scenes with Arkansas State because McCaulay's application for the Red Wolves name is still pending. The school has let others use the name.
He said he's pushing change by offering names that are considered favorites on odds boards.
"A lot ask how much I spend on this and I don't give out a number," McCaulay said. "If I'd gone to every home game in the last six years and pay parking and refreshments, I would have spent more than I have on this hobby and watching the games from home."
McCaulay's hobby, at least when it comes to trademarking potential names for Washington, could end soon.
"He's definitely spent a considerable amount," Heitner said. "If he gets enjoyment, who are we to attack it? But what's interesting now is I get the sense he's not enjoying it anymore."