Which W: Walgreens Or Washington?

May 11, 2019
Copyright 2019 WAMU 88.5. To see more, visit WAMU 88.5.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

If you've been to Washington, D.C., you might've noticed people wearing what appears to be Walgreens hats. Well, not really. The city's baseball team, the Washington Nationals, has a curly W logo that's remarkably similar to the drugstore chain's. And as Ally Schweitzer from member station WAMU discovered after a visit to Nationals Park, the trademark is still causing confusion 14 years after the team rolled it out.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Ice cold water, $2.

ALLY SCHWEITZER, BYLINE: I'm outside the ballpark in D.C. asking game goers if they can distinguish between the Nationals logo and the Walgreens logo. I thought, if anyone could tell the difference, it would be Nationals fans. Turns out, I was wrong. I showed Northern Virginia resident Sean Barnett the logos side by side.

Can you tell what this is?

SEAN BARNETT: Washington Nationals.

SCHWEITZER: No.

BARNETT: No.

SCHWEITZER: That's the Washington Nationals. What is this?

BARNETT: Oh, is that Walgreens?

SCHWEITZER: Yes.

BARNETT: Oh, very close.

SCHWEITZER: Most fans I spoke to correctly identified the logos, but Barnett was among several who did not. When my colleague Sasha-Ann Simons asked Washingtonian Rich Jensen which one was which, he was also stumped.

RICH JENSEN: I can tell that one is for Walgreens and one is for the Nationals, but I couldn't tell you which is which.

SASHA-ANN SIMONS, BYLINE: And you say this as you're wearing a Nationals cap on your head. I love this.

JENSEN: Yeah, well, can I take it off and look?

SIMONS: (Laughter).

JENSEN: No. No.

SIMONS: No, you can't.

JENSEN: OK.

SCHWEITZER: The logo similarity has been a running joke among baseball fans ever since the team arrived in D.C. in 2005 and adopted the vintage W logo used by long-gone D.C. baseball team, the Washington Senators. Todd Radom knows this history well. He's the guy who recast the Senators' logo for Major League Baseball.

TODD RADOM: It is a remarkably similar curly W.

SCHWEITZER: Radom has designed thousands of sports logos during his career, but he says the one for the Nats is trickier than others out there.

RADOM: Boston Red Sox are two socks. The Philadelphia Eagles have an eagle. The word national really didn't lend itself to easy identification.

SCHWEITZER: So the decision was made to go with a word or a letter. And the chosen letter was the Senators' W, which happened to look a lot like the W Walgreens has used since at least the 1950s. And Walgreens never sued. That might seem surprising considering the drugstore chain filed a suit against grocer Wegmans over its W logo back in 2010. Wegmans later settled and stopped using the W. Neither Walgreens nor Major League Baseball agreed to comment for this story. So I turned to Ross Kimbarovsky. He's a former intellectual property attorney. He said he's not surprised Walgreens hasn't gone after Major League Baseball for a trademark violation because Walgreens the corporation, he says, isn't easily mistaken for a baseball team.

ROSS KIMBAROVSKY: It would be unfair at this point for them to be able to point a finger and say people are confused because what's been happening over the many, many decades there hasn't been any evidence of confusion.

SCHWEITZER: Kimbarovsky, who founded the logo company Crowdspring, says people probably aren't walking into Nationals Park looking to refill prescriptions. So back outside the stadium, I asked self-identified D.C. native Tye Ali if he's ever thought people would confuse the Nationals cap he's currently wearing for a Walgreens cap.

TYE ALI: No. No, everybody knows this is a Nationals hat (laughter). But then I don't know. It might be a Walgreens.

SCHWEITZER: It's not.

ALI: (Laughter).

SCHWEITZER: For diehard fans in D.C., the Walgreens' curly W and the Nationals' curly W aren't even in the same ballpark.

For NPR News, I'm Ally Schweitzer in Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.