Framed print of Looney Tunes character Taz, one arm raised. Image sitting on couch.

Weeks from launch, Tassie’s new AFL club is having a devil of a time securing name rights

In short: Global media and entertainment giant Warner Bros owns the rights to “Tasmanian Devil”, which many feel is the obvious name for the state’s new AFL team.
Former premier and Tassie football legend Ray Groom says the state government should step in and help break the deadlock.
What’s next? Negotiations continue with the club in final preparations for its official launch in March.

Tasmania’s AFL club is due to reveal its name, colours, logo and foundation membership next month — but whether it adopts the state’s most famous mascot is still unclear.

The ABC understands the AFL remains locked in negotiations with American corporate juggernaut Warner Bros for the rights to the name “Tasmanian Devils”.

It’s a fight the club had to win and nothing less than the birthright of all Tasmanians, said former premier and state football great Ray Groom.

But “that’s still being worked through,” the club’s executive director, Kath McCann, told the ABC.

Ms McCann said that, while a compromise was yet to be reached, negotiations were heading in the right direction.

“I think it would be fair to say there have been positive movements around those discussions,” she said.

“Still a bit of water to go under the bridge there, but we’re excited that when launch day comes, [we’ll be able] to share the end result with the community.

“Whether it will affect us directly or indirectly on launch day, that remains to be seen.”

Club executive director Kath McCann is confident of an agreement with Warner Bros.(ABC Northern Tasmania: Evan Wallace)

Tasmanian Devils party of state’s footy history

The issue was first raised as a potential problem in May when the AFL granted its 19th licence to Tasmania.

Warner Bros, which has a market capitalisation of almost $US24 billion, issued a statement saying it was confident a “happy solution” would be found over the name and iconic Tasmanian devil image.

The AFL declined to comment on the negotiations but confirmed “the brand, colours, name and guernsey will be revealed by the club in March”.

Tasmania’s under-18 men’s and women’s teams play as the Tasmanian Devils and the state’s now-defunct VFL club was also the Tasmanian Devils.

In 2019, the AFL filed a trademark application for “Tasmania Devils”, including the logo currently used by the state’s underage football teams.

In March last year, IP Australia gave the AFL an “adverse report” regarding the filing as it sought clarification on its use.

Framed print of Looney Tunes character Taz, one arm raised. Image sitting on couch.

A drawing of the Looney Tunes character Taz, signed by the creator’s brother and given to Mr Groom.(ABC Hobart: Lucie Cutting)

Since then and up until last month, the AFL has asked for four separate time extensions as the trademark’s official application status was listed as “being considered”.

The name has proved a historically difficult one for Tasmania.

In 1984, “Tasmanian Devil” was trademarked by Warner Bros, limiting its use for a vast array of products and services lest they impinge on the copyright.

The decades-long battle to reclaim the name has been “like a custody battle between loving parents”, said Mr Groom, who called for the Tasmanian government to help the AFL and Tasmania take it back.

Familiar battle for ex-premier Ray Groom

Man holding watercolour painting of a growling devil

Now a keen painter, Mr Groom has continued his love affair with the devil through artworks.(ABC Hobart: Lucie Cutting)

Mr Groom knows the struggle the AFL faces trying to secure the Tasmanian devil.

The former premier, whose football career ranged from Cooee in the state’s north-west to a best-and-fairest medal at Melbourne in 1968, is in the AFL Tasmania Hall of Fame and his grandson, Will, played with the Tasmanian Devils under 18s last year.

“This is a battle that’s coming up in the next month or so,” he said of the Tassie AFL team’s name.

“They’re still seeking, as I understand it from whispers I hear, the right to use the names and I understand Warner Bros has not quite agreed.”

In November 1997 Mr Groom, then tourism minister, raised the issue with Warner Bros representatives who were “a bit evasive”.

“Trying to pin them down and get something formal from them was not easy,” Mr Groom said.

“They protect their interests.”

He did not recall a formal or written agreement and said the issue “sort of drifted off into the never-never”.

Tasmanian devils — the carnivorous marsupials — have fascinated Mr Groom since he was young when he saw wild devils in the bush near Trevallyn, northern Tasmania. He’s been devoted to them since.

The name was “part of us”, he insisted: “It’s part of who we are as an island people … we own it, I believe.”

“And Tassie Devils is a terrific name for a football team,” he said.

“They have to win that one.

“The Tasmanian government should get involved and not just leave it to the AFL.

“There’s a Tasmanian interest in this … the name Tasmanian Devil cannot be owned by Warner Bros.”

The ABC approached the Tasmanian government for comment and asked if it was helping the AFL with negotiations or had offered a fee to use the name.

In a statement, it said it “understands the Tasmanian AFL club will launch its name and colours in March ahead of the team’s entry into the competition in 2028 and looks forward to this announcement.”

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Author: Russell White