Tasmanian AFL team facing awkward legal issue over nickname choice

The AFL is wary of Warner Brothers stepping in to block the new Tasmanian team being nicknamed the Devils.

AFL CEO Andrew Dillon is pictured with an inset of Looney Tunes character, the Tasmanian Devil.
Incoming AFL CEO Andrew Dillon says it remains to be seen if Warner Bros will block the new Tasmanian team from being nicknamed the Devils. (Warner Brothers/Looney Tunes/Getty Images)

The long-awaited new AFL team in Tasmania was finally given the go-ahead by all 18 club presidents earlier this week, but a new fight looms with Hollywood over what the team will be nicknamed. The unanimous approval was given after the AFL secured funding from the federal government to contribute to a new stadium in Hobart - albeit one many local residents consider unnecessary.

An obvious nickname for the Tasmanian team would be the Devils, after the marsupial named after the island state. However a bout of legal wrangling could be on the horizon should that nickname be selected, given movie studio Warner Brothers owns the rights to the name thanks to the Looney Tunes character Taz the Tasmanian Devil.

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The AFL has reportedly already trademarked the Tasmanian Devils name in Australia, however it is due to commercial arrangements such as licensing and merchandise for the new team that is expected to raise some issues. Interestingly, Tasmania's state level under-18 team is already named the Devils, however there are no commercial arrangements in place for the junior team.

Incoming AFL CEO Andrew Dillon flagged that the nickname could lead to potential issues with Warner Bros, but in dicated it was his preference that the team's name reflects the fact it represents fans in the state. Though he was unsure of how things might proceed should the Devils be the chosen name, he said he had an 'open mind' with whatever would come next.

“I am not across that one, but I do know there is something with Warner Brothers,” he told SEN radio. “But (I’m) not 100 per cent across that one.

"I have got an absolutely open mind (however). The name of the Tasmanian team should be owned by the people of Tasmania.”

Discussing the new team on AFL 360, AFL journalist Mark Robinson said it was 'crap' that a Hollywood studio could potentially block the use of the Devils name. Warner Brothers wouldn't have come up with the character its animal namesake didn't exist in the first place, he said.

“That’s crap (regarding ownership of commercial trademarks). I know they do, but that’s rubbish,” Robinson said. “There’s got to be goodwill in this world, if we run out of goodwill, we’re all in trouble.

“(Warner Bros) only got the name because of Tasmania. If Tasmania wants to call their football team the Tasmanian (Devils), they do it.

“And if Warner Bros says: ‘You’ve got to pay us money,’ all of Australia boycotts all Warner Bros movies. This can’t happen, and it won’t happen. I’ve still got faith in this world there’s enough goodwill around.”

The state's previous VFL team, which competed in the Victorian state league from 2001 to 2008, was also named the Devils. Back in 2018, the Hobart Mercury surveyed their readers when an AFL expansion was initially being canvassed, with Devils the preferred nickname among those who voted.

The 19th AFL franchise was finally given the go-ahead by the other 18 clubs after the Albanese government committed $240 million for the new Hobart stadium - a non-negotiable from the AFL in order to found the Tasmania franchise. It will be the first new AFL team since the GWS Giants were given a license in 2010, joining the AFL in 2012.

Gillon McLachlan set to officially announce Tasmanian AFL team

Outgoing AFL boss Gillon McLachlan will visit Tasmania to officially announce the granting of the 19th license to the state, with the team predicted to join the AFL by 2027. Unlike the Giants and Gold Coast, the AFL's latest two additions, the Tasmanian team will be born into one of Australian Rules football's heartlands.

Tasmania boasts a rich football history, with Matthew Richardson, Ian Stewart and Peter Hudson among the island state's most famous footballers - all having to move to the mainland for their careers to flourish. Stewart, Hudson, Darrel "Doc" Baldock and Royce Hart are Tasmania's Australian football Hall of Fame legends.

Gillon McLachlan.
Outgoing AFL boss Gillon McLachlan will visit Tasmania to officially announce the granting of the team's license. (Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

"It will bring a great amount of joy to a lot of Tasmanians - I've been in the system for 13 years now and it's always been spoken about quietly," Collingwood defender and Tasmanian native Jeremy Howe told AFL360, "We've got to the place we're all happy with ... I know everyone back home is thrilled and pumped. For Tassie in general, it will be huge and a great result."

Carlton veteran Sam Docherty agreed, saying the decision is a no-brainer. "It's great for footy. I can't see why we have a national competition and there's no team down there - it doesn't make a whole lot of sense," he said.

The state government, which spearheaded the bid, will contribute $12 million per year over 12 years towards a team, plus $60 million for a high-performance centre. It will chip in $375 million for the new $715 million 23,000-seat roofed stadium at Macquarie Point, which opponents have labelled a waste of money amid a housing and health crisis.

The federal government is contributing $240 million and the AFL $15 million.

With AAP

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