The city of Pasadena scored a victory in federal court Monday when a judge ruled in favor of the city and put to rest an argument over who owns the Rose Bowl Game.
“The court agrees with defendants the city of Pasadena, that plaintiff cannot reasonably dispute, that separate and apart from intellectual property ownership, the heart and soul of the Rose Bowl Game belongs to the people of Pasadena,” said U.S. District Judge André Birotte.
Birotte threw out the Tournament of Roses Association’s claim with prejudice, which means the lawsuit is permanently dismissed.
The Tournament filed suit in February against the city for alleged trademark infringement, unfair competition, false association, slander and false advertising. The slander charges were later dropped,
“It is unfortunate that the Tournament of Roses went to these lengths and expended tremendous tournament resources in this matter,” Mayor Victor Gordo told Pasadena Now on Tuesday. “I am inviting the elected leadership to meet with me at City Hall in the next few days to discuss the future going forward.”
The ruling echoes Gordo’s words in articles published after the Tournament decided to move the Rose Bowl Game to Arlington, Texas, in which he said “The football game belongs to the City of Pasadena and the people of Pasadena.”
However, the Tournament claimed the “suit achieves key purposes.”
“Through the confirmation of the Tournament’s trademark rights and the preservation of its force majeure rights, the suit’s main goals were achieved,” Tournament of Roses CEO David Eads said today.
Tensions between the two sides escalated when restrictions arising from the COVID-19 pandemic caused the cancellation of the annual Rose Parade and barred fans from attending the Rose Bowl Game in Pasadena. The game was ultimately moved to Arlington, Texas, marking the first time since 1942 that the Rose Bowl game was played outside of Pasadena.
A Los Angeles federal court lawsuit claimed that the Tournament invoked the “force majeure” clause of its contract, maintaining that the pandemic was out of its control, so the association had the right to move the game out of Pasadena to AT&T Stadium in Arlington.
Although the dispute originated in the displacement of the game, a move agreed to by Pasadena officials, problems have persisted through the city’s “continued insistence that it is the co-owner of the marks and that its consent is necessary” to invoke the contract’s unforeseeable circumstances clause, according to the association.
The relationship between the Tournament and the city turned sour after the College Football Playoffs (CFP) decided to move the game to Arlington, Texas.
The Tournament promised to gift the city $2 million over three years.
In letters obtained by Pasadena Now, attorneys for the city said city officials discovered the game was moving and would retain the rights to the Rose Bowl Game name on a crawl during a televised UCLA Game.
Originally it was reported that use of the Rose Bowl Game name could only be transferred by a City Council vote.
The Tournament told Pasadena Now repeatedly that there are no plans to move the game out of Pasadena, but instead the group is “reaffirming its rights.”
However, in a response to the original lawsuit, the city said the Tournament of Roses wanted a court of law to assure it that it can move the Rose Bowl Game.
“It is an attempt by the Tournament to ask the Court to allow it to redraft the Master License Agreement for future, hypothetical events that might never happen,” the city said in a statement after the lawsuit was filed. “The fact is, the current agreement between the parties does not allow the Rose Bowl Game to be played anywhere but in Pasadena for any reason, unless the City consents, like it did this year as a good-faith partner during extraordinary times.”
The Master Lease Agreement lays out the agreement between the city and the tournament regarding the game and the parade.
Despite the deteriorating relationship both sides maintain they are looking forward to 2022 when the Rose Bowl Game and the Rose Parade are scheduled to be held in Pasadena.
According to that document, the Tournament is obligated to hold the Rose Bowl Game in Pasadena on Jan. 1 unless a force majeure event occurs.
A force majeure, or superior force clause, relieves parties from performing their contractual obligations when certain circumstances beyond their control arise.
According to the Tournament, the CFP declared a force majeure, but the city’s attorneys said they have not been able to confirm that.
“This lawsuit should have never been filed in the first place,” said Gordo. “The City of Pasadena has been a tremendous partner to the Tournament, and it is appalling that the Tournament took such a significant step over nothing. We are pleased that the judge wasted little time in dismissing the claims made entirely.”
In his ruling, Birotte wrote that “Plaintiff [the Tournament] and Defendant [the City] have been business partners for decades. Due to this mutually beneficial relationship, Plaintiff has consistently benefitted from Defendant’s promotion of Plaintiff’s game and its history and likely encourages such promotion. As discussed in oral argument, that this claim is being brought now is puzzling to the Court and it is clear that this claim [of trademark/unfair competition] is not the crux of the parties’ conflict.”