This, for once, wasn't all about the money.
Oh, Kansas Athletics Inc., saw dollar signs, all right, but the conservative culture of the corporation that operates on the Kansas University campus was motivated more by a particular T-shirt.
You know the one I'm talking about. Muck Fizzou.
Lew Perkins, CEO of Kansas Athletics Inc., hates that T-shirt. First, Perkins tried jawboning entrepreneur Larry Sinks to get rid of it, but Sinks declined. Then Perkins convinced ESPN to ignore students wearing it, but so many students donned it that ESPN couldn't avoid all of them.
Finally, KAI filed suit against Sinks, seeking to put him out of business, which, in essence, would finish Muck Fizzou once and for all because Sinks owns the trademark on those words.
Up front, however, the basis of KU's suit was infringement on the school's copyright. KAI sought more than half a million dollars in Sinks' profits as well as punitive damages from the sale of Muck Fizzou and about 200 other semi-reverent T-shirts.
A federal jury in Topeka, however, found that fewer than 50 of the shirts infringed upon KU's rights, so they awarded KAI about $125,000 based on Sinks' profits from those particular T's.
More notable, however, was, the jury ruling that Sinks can continue to market Muck Fizzou in perpetuity.
Not surprisingly, both sides claimed victory. Clearly, though, the winner was Sinks. He might not have knocked over Goliath with a single stone, but he certainly bloodied his brow.
At the same time, widespread publicity from the trial likely will make Muck Fizzou more popular than ever with KU students at a time when the slogan may have been running out of steam.
Last fall, for example, the University Daily Kansan newspaper promoted a contest to come up with something new and less vulgar, stating that Muck Fizzou had grown stale after five years. The finalists, as I recall, were yawningly insipid, and Muck Fizzou lived on.
Perkins did not issue a statement in reaction to the federal jury's blessing of Muck Fizzou, but KAI mouthpiece Jim Marchiony expressed the corporate dismay by saying, "I guess there will always be a market for tasteless shirts."
A bigger market than ever now, I suspect, because even though Sinks was ordered to funnel six figures into the KAI coffers, wide media coverage of the trial could lead to increased sales that would cover the penalty.
Meanwhile, KAI looked foolish for pressing the suit against Sinks. If KAI had ignored him, his business may have just faded away like a cheap, uh, T-shirt as student tastes inevitably changed.
Now I wouldn't be surprised if the "in" thing for incoming freshmen and transfer students will be to flock to Sinks' downtown store and purchase their very own Muck Fizzou outerwear.
Four or five years ago, the current athletics regime effectively disposed of the time-honored KU tradition of "waving the wheat" while the pep band played the Wheaties theme song when an opposing player fouled out in Allen Fieldhouse.
Now it could very well be that KAI has enhanced the perception of the Muck Fizzou T-shirt to the point where it is now a tradition.
- Verdict doesn't make clear why some shirts OK (07-17-08)
- Jury finds for KU in Joe-College lawsuit (07-14-08)
- T-shirt trial stretches with complexities (07-13-08)
- Jury deliberations in JoeCollege. com case to continue Monday (07-10-08)
- Jury to resume deliberations Thursday morning in KU's trademark dispute with T-shirt maker (07-09-08)
- Department seeking win in court (06-22-08)