The NFL (No Fun League) has a hard earned reputation for ruthlessly pursuing profits. The most recent example involves the long time catchphrase of New Orleans Saints fans, “Who Dat?” The Saints (all time record 275-378-5, all time playoff record 4-6) stumbled along for years. The team joined the NFL in 1967 and did not have a winning season for 20 years. In 1983, when the team got off to a fast start, Aaron Neville recorded a novelty song about the team containing the phrase “Who dat say they going to beat them Saints? Who dat, who dat?” The Saints promptly fell apart and finished 8-8, but “Who Dat?” caught on with Saints fans.
Fast forward to 2009. The Saints make the Super Bowl and people begin to print and sell shirts bearing the phrase “Who Dat?” A mere 27 years after Saints fans adopted “Who Dat?” as their unofficial motto, the No Fun League observes someone making a few bucks off the phrase during Super Bowl week, and decides that the NFL owns the rights to the phrase. Pavlovian NFL lawyers salivate. “Cease and desist” orders are issued to small businesses who are probably making hundreds of dollars off these shirts. Hilarity ensues.
Today, the NFL ran up the white flag, and admitted that nobody owns the rights to “Who Dat?” which has been traced to call-and-response acts in minstrel shows in the late 1800s. Entrepreneurs in New Orleans can go back to selling a few t-shirts, Saints fans can continue to yell “Who Dat?” without risk of infringing on the NFL’s seemingly limitless intellectual property rights, and the No Fun League is left with yet another black eye. I imagine NFL commissioner Roger Goodell restlessly pacing the floor of NFL headquarters late at night, deeply disturbed by the idea that somewhere, someone is making a couple of bucks off the NFL that he cannot expropriate.