SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah Utes clothing design business says it will no longer be able to sell university merchandise because of a misunderstanding over another company's design and production of a shirt intended to poke fun at in-state rival BYU.
However, the University of Utah Trademarks & Licensing Program refuted those claims Friday, saying the apparel company frequently breached its contract with the school.
Nate Bowen, owner of Offside Apparel, an independent business that sells Utes memorabilia, said the University of Utah will no longer contract with his company to sell fan gear.
The school's decision, Bowen claims, was made because Offside Apparel shared images on social media of a T-shirt reading: "The Only Cougar I Like Is Your Mom."
The company shared the images leading up to the Las Vegas Bowl between BYU and Utah, Bowen said. Offside Apparel didn't design, print or sell the shirt — that was apparently done by another business — but only shared images of it because "it is relevant to our target market," he said.
"Offside Apparel received an agreement violation notice from the University of Utah’s trademark management service company('s) legal team alleging Offside Apparel of selling unapproved designs," Bowen said in a statement.
Offside Apparel responded with an explanation that the shirt was not theirs, he said.
"To avoid any further conflict or confusion, the posts were promptly removed from all Running Red Shirts social media pages," Bowen said.
Even so, the University of Utah this week ended its decade-long partnership with Offside Apparel, according to Bowen. Because the downtown Salt Lake business no longer has ties to the school, it must liquidate its inventory by March 4, and all remaining merchandise will have to be destroyed, he said.
Brett Eden, Trademarks & Licensing director, said the decision not to renew the licensing agreement with Offside Apparel had nothing to do with the T-shirt Bowen cited as the impetus for cutting off business relations.
"The reason they weren’t renewed is because of a pattern of behavior that didn’t align with their contractual obligations," Eden said. "We’ve had several conversations over the past year (and told the company), 'Hey, we see you’re selling this. The artwork hasn’t been submitted. We can’t approve it. Stop selling it. To their credit, in most of those cases, they did stop selling it."
The University of Utah gives out more than 400 licensing agreements at any one time, Eden said. Offside Apparel is eligible to reapply for such an agreement, he said.
Bowen said he won't attempt to reapply for a licensing agreement with the university. The Utah alum did say that despite the disappointing experience, he will continue cheering on his Utes.
"Go Utes," Bowen said with a chuckle. "I still say it."
Contributing: Brittany Copeland