The dispute over who owns the name and logo of the Buffalo Beauts appears headed for federal district court.
The National Women’s Hockey League has filed a request for declaratory judgement in response to a cease-and-desist letter from Buffalo Beauts Hockey, the subsidiary of Pegula Sports and Entertainment that has operated the team.
In a complaint filed this week in the Eastern District of New York, the league is asking the court to rule that it is permitted to use the name and logo of the Beauts under the terms of a licensing agreement between the league and Buffalo Beauts Hockey in August 2018.
An NWHL spokesman said the league had no comment on the court filing. A PSE official said the organization does not comment on pending legal matters.
Buffalo Beauts Hockey sent the NWHL a cease-and-desist letter on June 25, demanding that the league stop displaying and distributing marketing materials with the Beauts name and logo, including social media posts and websites; destroy all merchandise in its possession with the name and logo; not use the name or logo in the future; and provide documentation of its compliance with the demands.
In its complaint, the league says those demands are a “direct contravention” of the licensing agreement “which expressly and explicitly permits NWHL Holdings to use the Beauts marks ‘in connection with the operation and promotion’ ” of the league. The agreement says the league and BBH have granted each other “perpetual, non-exclusive, royalty-free and sublicensable licenses to use one another’s trademarks.”
However, the licensing agreement says the use of the Beauts marks "is subject to BBH's approval, which shall not be unreasonably withheld, conditioned or delayed."
The June 25 letter said the league had two days to comply or could face further legal action.
The NWHL is asking the court to rule that the use of the name and logo is “proper, authorized and non-infringing” and that it can continue to use them.
The cease-and-desist letter was sent days after the Beauts social media accounts were deactivated, stemming from an impasse on operating control of the franchise. PSE acquired the team in December 2017 and announced in May that it was relinquishing control of the team.
PSE and the league had a verbal agreement, but the NWHL has not signed the separation paperwork and the deadline has passed, a source told The News last month. Without a signed agreement, PSE says it remains in control of the franchise and its name and logo.
“BBH has been unable to reach an agreement to GIVE the Beauts name and intellectual property rights back to the NWHL,” the Beauts said in a statement on June 23. “Accordingly, if the NWHL wishes to have a Buffalo-based franchise, it will need to be under a new name as the NWHL will be unable to use the existing Beauts name and related trademarks.
“We remain interested in reaching a reasonable agreement with the NWHL. In the meantime, PSE will continue to support the growth of the game of hockey across all genders and age groups.”
When PSE announced its intent to return control of the team to the league, the NWHL said it planned to continue to have a Buffalo franchise and hoped to arrange a rental agreement to remain at Harborcenter.
The continued acrimony between the NWHL and PSE could make it challenging to negotiate that agreement, given that PSE owns and operates Harborcenter. The longer the dispute goes, the more difficult it could be for the NWHL to secure ice time, given the heavy demand.
The league could continue to operate a Buffalo franchise with a different name and potentially playing in a different venue.
The disagreement comes in the midst of questions about the future of women’s hockey in North America as more than 200 players have said they intend to boycott in hopes of forming a viable, financially stable league.