Last November, the Chicago Cubs made history and broke the longest championship drought in professional sports. “There’s always next year” became “This is our year” as the Cubs defeated the Cleveland Indians in Game 7 to win their first World Series title in 108 years. This week, as is the tradition in the sports world—and baseball, in particular—the members of the Cubs organization, including players, coaches, front office executives, and support staff, each received their own personal memento of the occasion in the form of the championship ring. Championship rings are largely seen as a gift from the club to the players and other individuals in recognition of their achievement, but this year, it seems that there are some strings attached.
As a business law attorney, I understand the value of contracts and taking steps to protect a brand. While some may see recent move by the Cubs as off-putting or insensitive, the team believes that it is acting in the best interests of the organization and the Cubs brand as a whole.
Each year, a jewelry maker customizes championship rings for the organization that wins the World Series—the same is true for the Super Bowl, Stanley Cup, the NBA Finals, and other major titles in sports. Jostens created this year’s rings with input from the team, and several versions were released. The most intricate and valuable went to the players and featured 108 diamonds—representative of the 108 years between championships—with an estimated value of up to $40,000. A similar version is currently available to fans for $10,800 online. Other members of the organization, including part-time and seasonal workers, received rings with fewer diamonds and an overall lower value.
Since there is virtually nobody alive who can remember the last time the Cubs won the World Series, championship memorabilia is highly coveted by collectors. Experts believe that the Cubs’ rings could be worth between $50,000 and $250,000 on the open market, with the higher end reserved for the players’ rings. The Cubs organization, however, is taking precautions against the rings showing up on the open market.
Reports indicate that the team circulated a memo that it asked ring recipients to sign. The memo—the team seems hesitant to use the word “contract”—requires a ring owner to notify the club of any plans to sell or otherwise transfer the ring to a new owner. If the team approves of the sale, the new owner would also be bound by the terms of the agreement. According to the memo, if the team objects to the sale, it reserves the right to buy the ring back for $1. The Cubs told the Chicago Tribune, however, that the memo does not apply to players or coaches, or to ring owners who wish to give the rings as gifts to spouses, children, or grandchildren.
The buy-back provision is an effort by the club to protect its brand. The Cubs are in the process of distributing more than 1,900 rings to people throughout the organization, including security guards and Wrigley Field staff—by far the highest number of championship rings ever distributed. To illustrate the difference, when the White Sox won the World Series in 2005, that team handed out 430 rings. The least expensive version of these rings are worth approximately $500 but are still a sign of the team’s appreciation. If several hundred of the Cubs’ rings suddenly hit the market, the Cubs would have little control over how they are disseminated without the provisions in the memo.
If you own and operate a successful business, it is important to protect your brand from dilution and negative influences. You have the right to decide how your brand is used and who may profit from it. To learn more about protecting your business and interests, contact an experienced Naperville business law attorney. Call 630-756-1160 for a confidential consultation at The Gierach Law Firm today.