The Washington Nationals And Walgreens Have Really Similar Logos. Is That A Problem? Despite confusion over the two symbols, Walgreens hasn't sued Major League Baseball for a trademark violation. One lawyer says that's in part because they operate in totally different markets.
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The Washington Nationals And Walgreens Have Really Similar Logos. Is That A Problem?

The Washington Nationals And Walgreens Have Really Similar Logos. Is That A Problem?

Can Nationals fans distinguish between the Walgreens "W" and the Nats "W"? Watch the video and see for yourself.

Tyrone Turner/WAMU YouTube

It's a question lots of newcomers or visitors to Washington have asked themselves at some point: Why are people walking around D.C. wearing Walgreens hats?

Does sporting the drugstore chain's "curly W" get you a discount on Zyrtec? Or do Washingtonians just really believe in "living well" at "the corner of happy and healthy"?

Listen up, D.C. newbies: It's none of the above.

First of all, the D.C. region's drugstore of choice isn't Walgreens; it's CVS. Second, in Washington, that curly W stands for one thing: the Washington Nationals.

The confusion among logos is understandable. And it's what prompted D.C. resident Aungelic Nelson to ask this question of WAMU's "What's With Washington" series: "Why does the Washington Nationals 'W' look almost exactly like the Walgreens 'W'?"

The curly W has confounded people ever since the Montreal Expos moved to D.C. for the 2005 season, adopted the Nationals moniker and recaptured the vintage logo used by long-gone baseball team the Washington Senators. Especially those who relocate here from places like Illinois, Florida and Texas, where Walgreens are as ubiquitous as food trucks in McPherson Square.

Despite confusion over the two symbols, Walgreens — which used a curly W long before the Senators did — hasn't sued Major League Baseball for a trademark violation. That's surprising, considering the company sued grocery chain Wegmans over this exact issue before.

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Meanwhile, Major League Baseball hasn't publicly addressed the similarity or made any attempt to rectify the situation, fueling satire, online scrutiny, rampant speculation about why this hasn't wound up in court — and surely bewildering many tourists.

But if you think Nationals fans are immune from the confusion, you would be wrong.

The "W" looks similar, but is anyone expecting Stephen Strasburg to throw a pitch at Walgreens? Charles Krupa/AP hide caption

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Charles Krupa/AP

'I Couldn't Tell You Which Is Which'

To determine whether Nats supporters can distinguish the two trademarks, a small team of WAMU journalists roamed the streets outside Nationals Park on a recent game night, challenging baseball fans to a quiz: Which curly W belongs to whom?

Two native Washingtonians had no problem correctly identifying the Nats "W."

"Everybody knows this is a Nationals hat!" said Tye Ali, laughing under his ballcap brim. John Spice, standing nearby, concurred. "If you're a Washingtonian," he said, "you know the difference."

That was generally true of the locals we interviewed — though there were exceptions.

"I can tell that one is for Walgreens and one is for the Nationals," said Washingtonian Rich Jensen, scrutinizing the two logos side by side. "But I couldn't tell you which is which."

Jensen was wearing a Nationals cap at the time.

But few people we spoke to seemed to think the similarity was a big deal.

"The curly W's been around forever. Who cares about Walgreens?" said Dennis Thaxton of Burke, Virginia. "I'm a Nats fan, I'm not a Walgreens fan."

Ryan Miller of Ashburn, Virginia, who brought his son Deacon to watch the Nationals play the St. Louis Cardinals, said the issue was old hat in his social circle. "I've been making fun of it long enough to know the difference," he said, dryly. "I think it's pretty uninteresting."

But there are plenty of others who continue to be either confounded or entertained by the whole affair — and the latter group includes Todd Radom, the guy who recast the Senators logo for Major League Baseball.

What's With Washington: curly W edition. Chris Tylec/WAMU hide caption

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Chris Tylec/WAMU

'A Curious Retro Thing'

Radom lets out a belly laugh when I tell him people keep mistaking Nationals hats for Walgreens swag.

The professional logo designer, who was hired by MLB to drum up a trademark for the Nationals, still jokes about it himself.

"I was at the All-Star game last year in Washington, and right down the street from my hotel there was a Walgreens," Radom says. Naturally, he tweeted a photo of the drugstore sign, alongside a quip about how many Nationals logos he kept spying around town.

"It is a remarkably similar curly W," Radom says. "[But] it's got nothing to do with me."

The designer calls the refashioned Senators logo "a curious retro thing" that was wrenched from the history books. His job was to spruce it up a bit and make it compatible with the many media on which it would be used, from ponchos to Jumbotrons.

But as for who actually made the decision to use the logo, despite its clear similarity to the Walgreens mark? That remains unclear. MLB, the Nationals and Walgreens all declined to comment for this story.

Regardless of its origin, though, Radom says using the "W" made practical sense.

"When you think about it, the word 'National' really doesn't necessarily lend itself to specific imagery," Radom says. "The Boston Red Sox are two socks. The Philadelphia Eagles have an eagle. The word 'National' really didn't lend itself to easy identification. So it was determined that it would revolve around a wordmark."

Radom says he added red, white and blue to the package and topped it off with a little gold, for flourish.

"And all of a sudden," he says, "we had a Washington Nationals logo."

'Nobody's Complained Enough'

The fact that the two symbols haven't led to a legal brawl doesn't surprise Ross Kimbarovsky, a former intellectual property attorney who now runs his own logo company.

Kimbarovsky says it all comes down to whether the public will mistake one company's products or identities for the other's — and in this case, there's little chance of that happening, despite similarities in the trademarks.

Washington Senators' Manager Ted Williams dons the team's "W" logo at an exhibition game in 1969. Look familiar? /AP hide caption

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"The Nationals play baseball. Walgreens does not. They're totally different markets," the CEO says.

Some companies are aggressive about suing over trademark infringement, he says — think Apple or Nike — but not every corporation is eager to spend millions of dollars defending its brand.

"There's a risk to Walgreens that if they file a lawsuit, they're going to spend a lot of money and not get any results," Kimbarovsky says.

There's also the chance that the public would react negatively to a Walgreens vs. Major League Baseball lawsuit, he says. Walgreens had the logo dating back to at least the 1950s (though a spokesperson for Walgreens could not confirm when the chain began using it). The latest incarnation of the Senators adopted the curly W in the 1960s. If the drugstore was going to sue, it should have done so a long time ago, says the former litigator.

"For a company [decades] later to come in and say, 'These guys are violating our trademark rights by copying our logo,' to the general public would seem pretty crazy," Kimbarovsky says. "This has been around for so many years, and nobody's complained enough for Walgreens to care about it."

But according to Todd Radom, the Nationals' curly W could be a sore spot for reasons having nothing to do with a national drugstore chain.

The Washington Senators, after all, abandoned D.C. more than once. The team split the nation's capital for Minnesota in 1960 to become the Twins. The expansion team that followed spent a decade in town before high-tailing it to Texas and turning into the Rangers.

When Radom took a friend to the first Nationals home game in 2005, he says, the sight of those old W's made his companion — a Rockville native — a little misty.

"This is the team that moved and ripped his heart out as a 6- or 7-year-old," Radom says. "He associated this curly W with the team that took off for Texas."

Oof — that's not a good brand association.

But the designer says younger Nationals fans have no clue about that history. Plus, the new-and-improved logo has cachet: Maryland-reared hip-hop artist Wale routinely dons a Nats hat, and musicians and at least one UFC fighter sport curly W tattoos.

"The Nationals have taken the [symbol] and made it their own," Radom says. "There are people who get that curly W tattooed on them in a way that they're probably not getting a Walgreens 'W' tattooed on them."

Sasha-Ann Simons, Letese' Clark and Tyrone Turner contributed to this story.

This story was published originally on May 9, 2019 as part of WAMU's series, What's With Washington. Subscribe and get an even deeper look at some of your favorite listener-sourced stories.

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