About two months ago, the University of Houston football team unveiled a new alternate uniform clearly modeled after the Houston Oilers’ famous “Love Ya Blue” design. The Cougars’ new alternate uni made its on-field debut for the team’s 2023 season opener a few days after the unveiling.
It may not be worn again, however, because The Houston Chronicle is reporting that the NFL has hit the university with a C&D — that’s a cease-and-desist letter — because the Cougars’ design infringes on the Oilers’ trademarked look. The NFL’s letter says the school wore the uniform “in a manner that is likely to cause consumers to believe that the Houston Cougars are associated with, or are an authorized licensee of, the NFL and the Titans.” The potential for consumer confusion is at the heart of most trademark cases.
According to the Chronicle article, the university has not produced or sold any merchandise related to the Oilers-style uniforms because the school’s licensing department declined to approve any such items. So the C&D is strictly about the uniforms being used on the field.
By coincidence (or maybe not), the Tennessee Titans, who own the Oilers’ intellectual property, wore Oilers throwbacks just yesterday.
The irony, of course, is that this uniform so closely associated with Houston can be worn by a team in Tennessee but not — in the NFL’s opinion — by a school in Houston.
Rice has also worn “Love Ya Blue”-inspired alternates this season, but they are apparently not facing the same legal scrutiny from the NFL. Per this article:
Rice also used the ‘Luv Ya Blue’ color scheme in 2023 but they don’t appear to be included under the same trademark infraction, at least according to the NFL. One source tells me it could be for two reasons – one, the Owls put “Rice” on the front of the jerseys and two, the Oilers played at Rice Stadium as an AFL franchise from 1965 through 1967.
There are other college football uniforms based on NFL designs. The University of Iowa, for example, wears Steelers-inspired uniforms. And in 2017, Arkansas wore a Cowboys-themed uni as a salute to Jerry Jones (although that one was rendered in Arkansas colors, not Cowboys colors, so there’d be no room for consumer confusion).
The Cougars have not yet issued a statement about the C&D.
Update: My friend and former ESPN colleague Dave Wilson has a good roundup of the situation.