Who owns a rivalry? Is it the teams who play the matches? Is it the league in which those teams compete? Or is it the fans who invest their time, money and passion into each feud?
This is the question at the heart of the competing claims to trademark the name “Cascadia Cup”, the triangular rivalry pitting the Portland Timbers, Seattle Sounders and Vancouver Whitecaps against one another for Pacific Northwest supremacy. It is a question whose answer depends on who you ask, and one whose ultimate resolution will set the precedent for other fan-created rivalries between MLS teams.
MLS believes the stewardship of rivalries between their franchises is part of their greater responsibility. In this spirit, citing a desire to protect the rivalry from third-party exploitation, the league filed a claim with the Canadian Intellectual Property Office on Dec. 17 to grant MLS the exclusive trademark to the Cascadia Cup.
That claim is now in the process of being contested — by the groups that actually created the trophy five years before Seattle became the first of the three franchises to gain MLS membership in 2009.
The Cascadia Cup, celebrating a decade of existence as America’s answer to the derbies of European and South American legend, was created in 2004 as a way of crowning a Pacific Northwest champion among the three teams then playing in the USL First Division. The trophy, a two-foot-tall silver cup, was donated by the Timbers Army, Emerald City Supporters and Vancouver Southsiders supporters groups to be awarded under jointly determined guidelines annually to the best team in the region.
Originally the teams had no desire to add an extra wrinkle to what was already building into a heated three-way rivalry. Their lukewarm acceptance of the trophy at first ceded any claim the three franchises might have on its trademark.
It was these three official supporters groups that turned the Cascadia Cup into a rivalry worthy to be compared to any other derby around the globe. Nurturing it along when Seattle earned MLS status before its rival cities, it was the supporters groups who kept the Cup in existence and provided MLS with a ready-made spectacle when Portland and Vancouver joined the Sounders in the top flight in 2011.
The supporters groups have banded once again, sidelining their fanatical enmities to assert their own claim. Already they have incorporated as the Cascadia Cup Council, taking action to file their own trademark claim in the United States and a counterclaim in Canada. Recognizing that MLS doesn’t always have the most altruistic of intentions with its “stewardship” — one need look no further than the Subaru Rocky Mountain Cup between Real Salt Lake and the Colorado Rapids, to which MLS sold the sponsorship rights to a fan-created rivalry trophy without consulting the supporters groups that created it — the triumvirate of Pacific Northwest supporters groups are prepared to fight to keep the league from snagging the trademark.
MLS says it is protecting the best interests of the rivalry. Prior actions by the league make this claim look more like an attempt to capitalize commercially on the crown jewel of MLS rivalries. As the Timbers prepare for their defense of the Cascadia Cup and the Sounders and Whitecaps await their chance to wrest it away in 2013, another battle for the cup roils beyond the pitch between a league and the fans on which its success is dependent.