Published on Tuesday, May 7, 2002 by the Toronto Globe & Mail
WWF Knocked Out by Environmentalists
by Paul Waldie
An environmental group whose logo features a giant panda has forced the world's biggest professional wrestling company to change its name.
The World Wrestling Federation, best known for Hulk Hogan, the Rock and the Undertaker, announced yesterday that it is changing its name after losing a legal battle with the World Wildlife Fund over the initials WWF.
The wrestlers will now be known as WWE, or World Wrestling Entertainment. The company has already changed its logo (opting for two jagged Ws), Web site and most promotional material. It will also change its stock symbol, currently WWF on the New York Stock Exchange, once "a suitable replacement symbol is found."
Changing all WWF products -- which include clothing, toys, video games, magazines and TV shows such as Raw and Smackdown -- will take months and could cost as much as $50-million (U.S.).
"It's been a long time coming," said Stephen Johnson, a spokesman for the Canadian World Wildlife Fund. "WWF is really vital for us. We've been building that brand equity for so long. It's been the wrestlers against a cute little panda bear. And the panda won."
The legal battle between the two WWFs dates back to 1989, when the federation applied to trademark its name. The wrestling group, based in Stamford, Conn., started in 1979 as Titan Sports, but changed its name to World Wrestling Federation after a reorganization.
The World Wildlife Fund, based in Switzerland, opposed the trademark. The fund trademarked the WWF logo in 1961, shortly after being created. The fund changed its name to World Wide Fund for Nature in 1989 but kept the logo.
The environmental group was worried that being associated with professional wrestlers would hurt their image. The two groups came to an agreement over how to use the logo, but by the early 1990s, the fund alleged that the wrestlers had violated the deal.
They came to another agreement in 1994, but three years later, the federation started its wwf.com website and allegedly ignored that deal by promoting WWF products.
The fund sued in a British court, and last year a judge ruled the federation had breached the trademark.
"I think the fund was entitled to be concerned by any possible association between it and the federation," the court ruled. "Many would find the federation's activities meretricious."
The wrestlers appealed, but last month Britain's Court of Appeal dismissed the case.
The appeal decision "helped prompt us to change the name," Gary Davis, a wrestling federation spokesman, said yesterday. "We've been looking at this for a couple of months. This just made sense for us to do as a company."
Linda McMahon, the company's chief executive officer and wife of founder Vince McMahon, said the name change will help the federation.
"We will utilize this opportunity to position ourselves emphasizing the entertainment aspect of our company and, at the same time, allay the concerns of the Fund," she said in a statement.
The wrestlers aren't giving up the trademark fight. The new WWE plans one more appeal of the British trademark ruling, this time to the House of Lords.
"We are still going forward because there are a number of issues surrounding the order that go beyond the simple issue of the name and the logo," Mr. Davis said.
The name change is the latest problem to hit the wrestling organization.
Last year, it cancelled its brief venture into football, the XFL, and took a $37-million hit. Revenue is expected to drop to $395-million this year, from approximately $500-million last year, and profits have slumped. The company's share price has also dropped, falling to $15.18 from $25.25 shortly after the WWF went public in 1999.
But some analysts say the name change won't be a significant problem.
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