Will Starbucks Become the Next Corporate Sponsor of a Professional Sports Facility?

by Josh H. Escovedo
The IP Law Blog

I’m experiencing déjà vu. I wrote about a similar topic prior to Allegiant Air becoming the official sponsor of the Las Vegas stadium that the Raiders now call home. In fact, I covered the topic at a time when Allegiant Air claimed that it was not involved in any negotiations for the naming rights of any professional sports facilities despite having filed an application with the United States Patent and Trademark Office for use of Allegiant in connection with stadium or training facilities.

I predicted in my article that Allegiant Air was being covert and was likely involved in such a negotiation, and if I recall correctly, I predicted that they would obtain the naming rights to what is now known as Allegiant Stadium. So why am I going on about this? Because it is happening again. On June 2, 2021, Starbucks filed an application with the U.S Patent and Trademark Office to use its name in connection with “promoting business, sports and entertainment events of others” and “providing stadium and training facilities for sports and entertainment activities.”

Starbucks’s application was filed on an intent-to-use basis, meaning that Starbucks based its application on its good-faith intent to use the mark in commerce in association with the specified services within the statutory period, which can be extended as long as 36 months. As a result, Starbucks will be required to file a statement of use once it has used the mark in connection with the relevant services.

But does Starbucks have any prospective stadiums it would like to sponsor at the moment? They might. But if they do, they aren’t saying. When asked for a comment about the recently filed trademark application, Starbucks declined to comment except to confirm that the application was filed. Unfortunately, that doesn’t give us the necessary insight to do anything more than speculate concerning Starbucks’s intent. I suppose it’s a good thing that speculation is entertaining.

Given that Starbucks is headquartered in Seattle, Seattle would be the most suitable location for it to make a stadium-rights deal. Corporations often enter into deals to name stadiums or arenas where they are headquartered, but that isn’t always the case. So, if we’re speculating, the most obvious location for Starbucks would be Seattle. But Seattle’s facilities are spoken for at the moment. The Seahawks and the Sounders play their games at Lumen Field, which is named after Lumen Technologies, and although the NHL expansion team, the Krakens, will be playing at a brand-new arena next season, Amazon, another Seattle-headquartered corporation, owns the naming rights to that facility. With that said, it seems that Seattle may not be the most obvious location for Starbucks Stadium or Starbucks Arena after all.

Then again, Seattle has been a target city for an NBA expansion team or franchise relocation since the departure of the Seattle SuperSonics to Oklahoma City in 2008. And if that were to happen, I can’t think of a more suitable name than Starbucks Arena. So maybe Starbucks can help make Seattle basketball fans happy again and lure an NBA franchise back to the city.

But as I said before, this is all speculation and conjecture. It’s also possible that the trademark will never be used. While I believe that Starbucks filed the application with the intent to enter into a naming-rights deal, I also believe that they won’t do so unless the right opportunity presents itself. We will monitor the situation as it develops, and if a deal is made, we will publish another article. But remember, it could be three years before the intent-to-use application expires, so be patient.