Delaware North is being blasted online for a lawsuit filed against the National Park Service, demanding $51 million for the trademarked names of a half-dozen properties and locations inside Yosemite National Park. DNC had managed the hotels and concessions since 1993, but lost the contract to rival Aramark late last year. As a result of the dispute, the NPS has changed the name of five sites within the park, a move that outraged thousands who saw DNC’s trademark demands as a spiteful corporate overreach. The move has sparked widespread outrage online with a scathing editorial from Outside Magazine and plenty of public shaming on Twitter.
Everybody hates you. Drop your absurd claim that you own a trademark to "Yosemite National Park." @delawarenorth
— Elliott Smith (@soundslikepuget) January 15, 2016
— Jessi Strong (@JessiStronger) January 15, 2016
— Tracie Cone (@Tracie_Cone) January 15, 2016
How did things go so disastrously wrong for a company few in California had ever heard of? Delaware North has made a series of missteps in their handling of the Yosemite situation, creating one of the company’s worst crises in its 100 years of business. Below are three PR mistakes DNC has made with the Yosemite trademark fight.
3. Believing their own Spin about Yosemite
Throughout the scandal, Delaware North has fallen victim to an age-old folly of corporate hubris — believing their own bullshit. The company continues to argue that the trademarks they own are worth $51 million and that when presented with “the facts,” the public will side with DNC. They are wrong on both counts.
The trademarks are really only worth $3.5 million, according to government officials, which accused Delaware North of “grossly overvaluing” the names. While DNC conducted two independent appraisals of the name, they fail to realize that the names aren’t worth that much by themselves. There’s no other potential buyers — they’re only valuable when used in conjunction with the park. And as attorneys for NPS have pointed out, it’s the “unique, natural surroundings” at Yosemite that draws visitors and not the strength of the trademarked name.
When NPS announced that it was changing the names of five locations within Yosemite instead of paying $51 million, DNC quickly issued a press release stating they were “shocked and disappointed that the National Park Service would announce unnecessary changes to the beloved names of places in Yosemite National Park” and accused NPS of using the name “as a bargaining chip in a legal dispute.”
The problem with that line of argument — it’s diametrically opposed to the belief by most people that DNC is using a wedge issue to pressure NPS for profits. And more importantly, most people blame DNC for the name change since it was their actions that led to the current outcome.
2. Misunderstanding the Public Trust
— Sierra Club (@sierraclub) January 16, 2016
If you were surprised to learn that DNC held trademarks for five locations in the park as well as the phrase “Yosemite National Park,” you’re not alone. The National Park system is owned by the people of the United States — we own the land, we own the operations and most believe we should own the names as well.
NPS should not have allowed DNC to purchase those trademarks — a private company should not own the names of locations at a public park. That’s what shocked people — that the American people didn’t actually own the names of its national treasures. It’s as if DNC is changing our identity, claiming a right to the names on the map of America’s parks.
The American people feel like something is being taken away from them, and they don’t like it. Besides, the DNC is really skirting a legal boundary when it comes to trademarking the names of locations. City and state names are generally considered to be in the public domain, as are common geographical terms. If challenged, it’s unclear that all of these trademark claims would hold up.
And remember, the National Park Service had to sign off on DNC’s trademarks, giving NPS some legal culpability. But we’re not trying this case in a court of law — we’re trying this case in the court of public opinion.
1. Thinking Too Much about Themselves
The ultra rich in this country are generally out of touch, and more likely than not, narcissistic. Jeremy M. Jacobs Sr., the chairman of DNC, fits that bill. Forbes lists the 75-year-old’s net worth at $3.7 billion — among his assets are the Boston Bruins and TD Garden, where the team plays alongside the Boston Celtics.
When Jacobs Sr. lost the Yosemite contract, he was too upset to speak to a reporter for the Buffalo News, so he dispatched his son Jeremy Jacobs Jr. to do the interview. What followed was an odd profile of the Jacobs family, focused entirely on their connection to the park while failing to recognize that the National Park has deep personal meaning to millions of people.
“Since 1993, the Jacobs family formed deep ties through numerous visits to the park,” writer Stephen Watson explains. “The parents visit every year, not just to examine the operations, but to hike and climb in the Yosemite Valley and the High Sierra. Margaret Jacobs, an amateur photographer, takes pictures of the breathtaking scenery.The sons visit as much as once or twice a year, as well, during peak and off-peak seasons, bringing their children from the time they were babies.”
It seems that the Jacobs family are most upset about losing their family vacation spot, where they could go for long weeks and everyone at the park catered to their needs, because after all, they worked for the Jacobs family.
Of course, the article could also use a dose of self-righteousness, to which son Louis Jacobs graciously obliges.
“This was not a lucrative business deal by any stretch of the imagination,” he said. “We bid it for reasons other than money.”
What those reasons were, besides bragging rights for the Jacobs family, were not explained in any detail. There’s two more statements in the article that show how out of touch the Jacobs family are.
On handing the contract over to Aramark — “It’s like our baby is now being cared for by somebody who doesn’t quite have the same passion,” Jeremy Jacobs Jr. told the paper.
The problem with this statement is that Yosemite isn’t their baby, the park isn’t “theirs” and they certainly don’t have any type of parental rights over it. Not to mention that they assume their administration of concessions at Yosemite will be superior than Aramark, which has yet to be demonstrated.
Here’s the other — we’ll include the entire passage for contact
Back inside the park, as the Ahwahnee Hotel employees greeted the Jacobses during their visit earlier this summer, one of them took the chance to share a message with Margaret Jacobs.
“She said to her, ‘You GET Yosemite,’ ” Louis Jacobs said. “It was, I think, a pretty revealing statement saying an awful lot.”
Louis, you’re half right. It does say a lot. About awful behavior.