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Pasadena Tournament of Roses Takes City to Court Over Co-ownership of Tradenames

USC plays in a Rose Bowl Game in 2008. | Photo by Terry Miller / Beacon Media News

Originally published Feb. 8 at 9:51 a.m. / Updated Feb. 9 at 11:15 a.m. to include statement from the City of Pasadena

City of Pasadena says Tournament of Roses litigation is ‘divisive’

The Pasadena Tournament of Roses Association has filed a lawsuit against the City of Pasadena in federal court over ownership of the tradenames “Rose Bowl Game” and “Rose Bowl.”

The dispute originated with the Tournament of Roses’ decision to move the College Football Playoff game, originally scheduled for the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1, to AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas due to California guidelines during a surge of COVID-19 cases. This was the second time in history the Rose Bowl Game was played outside Pasadena since the immediate aftermath of the December 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor.

The Tournament of Roses, which built and then deeded the Rose Bowl Stadium to the city of Pasadena in 1922, says it owns the “Rose Bowl Game” trademark and related marks. Usage of the mark, along with other aspects of the association’s relationship with the city, are spelled out in a Master License Agreement (MLA) and two additional agreements with the city. The MLA requires the Rose Bowl Game to be held in the city’s Rose Bowl Stadium except in the event of a “force majeure” that allows the Tournament of Roses to move the game if there is an event beyond a party’s control which prevents the game from being played at the Rose Bowl Stadium.

The dispute has persisted through what the Tournament of Roses calls “the city’s continued insistence that it is the co-owner of the marks and that its consent is necessary to invoke the MLA’s ‘force majeure’ clause.” While the association has no plans or desire to move the game in the future, it does need a court’s clarification of its contractual and ownership rights, Tournament of Roses Executive Director/CEO David Eads said.

“Unfortunately, the City of Pasadena’s attempt to assert co-ownership in what are indisputably our trademarks threatens to interfere with our ability to carry out even routine business activities, and we have no choice but to get confirmation of our rights by the courts,” he said.

“It is disappointing that partners who have collaborated for more than 100 years weren’t able to amicably resolve their differences and felt it necessary to hastily resort to legal action,” Vice Mayor Andy Wilson told Pasadena Now.

“The last time of that I checked the legal name is ‘Pasadena Tournament of Roses Association.’ And this organization has benefited from the city of Pasadena generosity, the people, the Wrigley mansion, Colorado Boulevard, the Rose Bowl name, field, and facilities and most importantly the ‘Pasadena brand,’” added Councilmember Tyron Hampton. “They sold the rights to the name without even asking the people of Pasadena — most people found out by watching ESPN. And somehow they turn around and sue us and [act] like we did them wrong.”

“While the City of Pasadena typically does not provide comment on pending litigation, the egregiousness and contentiousness of the Tournament of Roses’ legal action last week warrants a response,” officials said in statement.

“The city is disappointed that its long-time partner, the Tournament of Roses, has chosen this divisive path. The fact is, the dispute between the parties is not about trademarks, as the Tournament has claimed. It is about the Master License Agreement between the parties that requires that the Rose Bowl Game be played at the Rose Bowl Stadium”

According to Mayor Victor Gordo, “It is unexpected and unfortunate that our partner for nearly a century has chosen this route.”  The City Council is resolute and has vowed to vigorously defend the city’s position.

The case was filed in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California on Feb. 4, 2021 as No. 21-1051.

February 9, 2021

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