It's still uncertain where Sacramento's basketball team will play next year, but one thing is clear: If they move to Anaheim, they'll no longer be Kings.
A Sacramento attorney representing the Maloof family, owners of the Sacramento Kings, two weeks ago filed federal trademark registrations for the names "Anaheim Royals" and "Anaheim Royals of Southern California."
The lawyer also registered the names "Orange County Royals" and "Los Angeles Royals" on the same day.
The filings, listed on the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office website, are dated March 3, days after the National Basketball Association granted the Sacramento Kings an extended six-week period to consider moving the team to Anaheim for the upcoming season.
The move to trademark several potential new names indicates that, at least as of two weeks ago, the team was taking solid steps to prepare for potential relocation to Orange County.
NBA Commissioner David Stern confirmed in late February that the Kings have been in talks with the Honda Center, the arena owned by the city of Anaheim. Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, who met briefly with the Maloofs on March 2, said earlier this week he senses the team has one foot "and three toes, maybe four" on the other foot out the door.
Kings owners Joe and Gavin Maloof have steadfastly refused comment on any potential Anaheim move.
The attorney who filed the trademark names, Scott Hervey, could not be reached Wednesday. Hervey is listed in legal documents and online databases as an attorney for the Maloofs and "correspondent" for the Maloof Money Cup, a skateboarding competition run by the Maloofs.
Also, on Feb. 23, an unknown entity filed for control of the Internet domain names "anaheimroyals.com" and "laroyals.com."
The team's potential new name, should it move to Anaheim, has caused much speculation in Southern California, and has prompted legal questions.
A contract between the city of Anaheim and the managers of the Honda Center stipulates a team playing in that arena must identify itself as an Anaheim team, with Anaheim as the first word and "sole geographic identifier" in the team name.
Using the Anaheim name has been a sensitive point for the city ever since the baseball team changed its name to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
Still, it makes sense for the Maloofs to seek trademarks incorporating Los Angeles and Orange County, said David Carter, a sports-business executive at the University of Southern California. It's commonplace to "gobble up URLs and other potential areas for branding," even if many of them go unused, he said.
Carter said the presence of the Los Angeles Kings hockey team creates an obvious reason to change the name of the basketball team to the Royals.
"Sports fans throughout Southern California, sponsors, network broadcast partners they're all going to want to avoid any potential for confusion," Carter said.
It wouldn't be such an abrupt change. This season, the Kings already have been playing with the name Royals on their chests.
As part of a league-sponsored program, the Kings are one of several teams who wore throwback uniforms for a handful of games this year. The Kings played the last two weeks as the Rochester Royals of Rochester, N.Y., where the franchise won its only NBA title in 1951.
The Royals later moved to Cincinnati, then to Kansas City, where the team name became the Kings.
The Kings have until April 18 to formally request the league allow it to move to a new city for next season. That could lead to an extended league vetting process, delaying any final decision until September. If that happens, the Kings would have just weeks to set up shop and sell tickets prior to a new season.
Sacramento city officials, meanwhile, have been doing some of their own preparation in recent works for a potential Kings move.
Mayor Johnson said Tuesday that city officials are examining the terms of the $67 million loan the Kings have with the city to ensure there are no loopholes allowing the team to leave without paying off their debt.
"I want to make sure the city is made whole (if the team leaves)," the mayor said.
Sacramento developer David Taylor and arena giant ICON Venue Group said they are moving forward with a study of the costs and feasibility of building a sports and entertainment arena downtown, with or without a basketball team as tenant.