Duluth Eskimos played in the National Football League in the 1926 and 1927 seasons. While NFL Properties LLC has filed trademark applications for vintage football teams in the past, like the CANTON BULLDOGS, BALTIMORE COLTS, and the BOSTON REDSKINS, those applications only covered apparel (presumably because the NFL was selling vintage football clothing).
While one of the DULUTH ESKIMOS applications also covers apparel, it is the other one that is most interesting. The second DULUTH ESKIMOS application covers the following services in Class 41:
Education and entertainment services in the nature of professional football games and exhibitions; providing sports and entertainment information via a global computer network or a commercial on-line computer service, or by cable, satellite, television or radio; arranging and conducting athletic competitions, namely, professional football games and exhibitions; football fan club services, namely, personal appearances by a costumed mascot for professional football teams; entertainment services, namely, live musical and dance performances provided during intervals at sports events; educational services, namely, conducting physical education programsDoes this mean the NFL is bringing a franchise to Duluth? On the one hand, the intent-to-use filing basis of the application does suggest that NFL Properties LLC has a bona fide intention to provide these services under this trademark in the near future. TMEP 806.01(b); 15 USC 1051(b). And this application will go dead unless the NFL actually starts using the DULUTH ESKIMOS trademark in conjunction with these services and submits sufficient proof of such use to the USPTO. See TMEP 1103. Finally, these are the typical services you see listed in a trademark application or registration for an NFL team's name.
On the other hand, NFL Properties LLC doesn't own any other trademarks for NFL team names. As I've blogged about before, most NFL team names are owned by the local franchise owner (although it is an attorney at the NFL who files the applications in the local franchise's name). For example, New England Patriots LLC owns the NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS trademarks and Cincinnati Bengals, Inc. owns the CINCINNATI BENGALS trademarks. If this application is actually for a team's name, it would be the only team name owned by NFL Properties LLC instead of the local franchise (though, technically, NFL Properties LLC could later assign this trademark to the local franchise).
Perhaps the filings were made only because the NFL intends to send apparel or otherwise promote NFL games in conjunction with this vintage trademark? Or perhaps there are talks to bring back the Duluth Eskimos? Unfortunately, it's impossible to ascertain the NFL's intention from these filings alone. As the applications progress, we may get more details.