Rose Bowl Hits Back At Pasadena In Hosting Rights Suit

By Zachary Zagger
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Law360 (April 21, 2021, 7:04 PM EDT) -- The group behind the Rose Bowl Game has blasted the City of Pasadena for its "naked power grab" in claiming to control where the famous annual college football game is held, urging a California federal court to keep alive its suit over the right to host the game outside the city in certain situations.

The nonprofit Pasadena Tournament of Roses on Tuesday urged the court to keep alive the suit over its right to move the game under a master license agreement in a force majeure situation, and to confirm its intellectual property rights over the Rose Bowl Game marks.

The suit was sparked after the more-than-100-year-old bowl game usually held on New Years Day at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena was held outside of the city this January for the first time since 1942. The game was held at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, amid California's restrictions on large public gatherings due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The city has sought to toss the suit, conceding the association owns the Rose Bowl Game trademarks in question but that the city only gave a "one-time" approval for the game to be moved to Texas in an attempt to avoid litigation it now faces.

"While this lawsuit was never the tournament's desire, it is clear such action is necessary to put a stop to the city's campaign of wrongfully claiming and representing and using the tournament's property as its own," the Tournament of Roses argued. "The motion to dismiss should be denied in its entirety."

The 2021 Rose Bowl Game, nicknamed the "Granddaddy of them all" as the oldest operating bowl game, was moved to AT&T Stadium — which also hosts the Cotton Bowl Classic — just weeks before it was set to start after complaints that even players' family and friends would not be able to attend the game due to California's COVID-19 restrictions.

The city and tournament reached an agreement to move the game after the College Football Playoff Committee, which organizes the top bowl games, invoked force majeure language in a master license agreement, citing public health warnings about infections in California and the state's restrictions.

But the tournament alleges that since then, Pasadena has notified it that it will not be able to host the game outside of Pasadena again without its consent, even in the case of a force majeure. The tournament further takes issue with public claims that the city shares ownership of the trademark on the game and that the game belongs to the city.

The city has since said it does not dispute that the association owns the marks in question, but that the MLA agreement allows the city to use the marks under certain circumstances. It maintains the real reason for the lawsuit is that the association is seeking court approval to move the game in the future.

The nonprofit dropped a slander claim after the city admitted that it does not own trademarks related to the yearly game but is seeking to keep alive related claims for trademark infringement, false advertisement and breach of contract, among others.

Counsel for the parties did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The association is represented by John Nadolenco, A. John P. Mancini, Jonathan W. Thomas and C. Mitchell Hendy of Mayer Brown LLP.

The city is represented by Kent R. Raygor, Jonathan D. Moss, Valerie E. Alter and Paul A. Bost of Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton LLP and Michele Beal Bagneris and Theresa E. Fuentes of the Pasadena City Attorney's Office.

The case is Pasadena Tournament of Roses Association v. City of Pasadena, case number 2:21-cv-01051, in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.

--Additional reporting by Bill Donahue and Craig Clough. Editing by Philip Shea.

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Case Information

Case Title

Pasadena Tournament of Roses Association v. City of Pasadena

Case Number



California Central

Nature of Suit



Andre Birotte Jr

Date Filed

February 04, 2021

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