MGM Lawsuit Threat to Force Rocky 50K to Change Its Name

The Rocky 50K — a 31-mile race based on a Philly Mag article that mapped out Rocky Balboa's run in Rocky II — received a cease-and-desist letter from MGM.

How long does a grass-roots DIY run last before it gets co-opted by The Man? Based on recent evidence, about a year.

Last year, I wrote a piece mapping Rocky Balboa’s training run in Rocky II. By connecting the scenes in a montage, I discovered Rocky ran a shade under 31 miles. About three hours after the piece went up, I got an email from Rebecca Schaefer, a Philadelphia resident who runs in ultra races, asking if she could attempt to organize an actual 50K roughly tracing the course I drew. It’d be a “fat-ass” run: Lightly organized, with no entry fees, awards or road closures. “It’d be small, for sure,” she wrote.

It wasn’t. The article attracted a bit of attention. Schaefer’s run was widely covered; more than 100 people showed up to run at least part of it. Runners collected sneakers for Back on My Feet. A woman who ran it pregnant last year named her son Rocky.

And now MGM has threatened Schaefer with a lawsuit, sending her a cease-and-desist letter over the Rocky 50K Fat Ass Run. “To be honest, I was shocked it hadn’t come sooner,” Schaefer, the run’s organizer, says. She’s changing the name of the Rocky 50K for its second edition on December 6th, a run that’s become much larger than she ever imagined. The soon-to-be-renamed Rocky 50K has no entry fees or actual sign-up list; Schaefer makes no money on the event.

Coincidentally, the cease-and-desist comes at the same time a new Rocky Balboa Run has debuted. The run — officially licensed by MGM — is organized by Cerulean Sports Group, a Chicago based-company that runs several races in large U.S. cities. It had previously announced an expansion to Philadelphia. If you need more proof running like Rocky is now the sole domain of The Man, Rocky 50K booster Runner’s World is sponsoring the new Rocky Run.

Schaefer got the cease-and-desist a few days after learning of the officially licensed Rocky race.

“MGM recently became aware that you are infringing MGM’s intellectual property rights in Rocky,” attorney Matthew S. Miller wrote in the letter on behalf of MGM. “Specifically, you are wrongfully using the Rocky name in connection with a race called the ‘Rocky 50K Fat Ass Run,’ which is scheduled to take place on December 6, 2014, in Philadelphia Pennsylvania.

“MGM demands that you and your affiliates immediately remove the Rocky name and any references, images or promotions related to Rocky from any … materials you may be disseminating in connection with the Unauthorized Rocky Event,” he continues. “Please be advised that failure to comply with these demands will cause MGM to take appropriate legal action to protect its rights and interests to seek all injunctions, damages, fees and costs to which it is entitled under law.”

After becoming aware of the Cerulean-run competing Rocky 5K/10K event, some Rocky 50K fans say they had posted complaints to the new Rocky Run’s Facebook page, but that they no longer appear there. The organizers at first responded with a form letter-like comment that explained their event was officially licensed (and, yes, an actual race with road closures and prizes and an entry fee). The Rocky Run’s organizers did not not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Fortunately, MGM can’t legally prevent people from running a course I pieced together from scenes in Rocky II. Schaefer plans to acquiesce to MGM’s name-change demand, but she isn’t canceling the run. She still wants to do the same running-friendly, DIY event with the same course. She still plans to give out a miniature Rocky statue donated by the original sculptor’s daughter to whoever collects the most shoes for Back on My Feet.

Schaefer just needs a new name. And she wants your help. If you have a suggestion for a new Rocky 50K run name, head over to the Facebook page and give it your best shot.

“I have some ideas going around in my head [for a new name], but I think it would be really fun to get everyone involved, so I figured why not go with it on Facebook,” she says. “But, as cheesy as it sounds, this race is about the people, so why not let them help rename it.” I can’t imagine “Unauthorized Rocky Event” would fly with MGM’s lawyers, but perhaps “Generic Philadelphia Boxing-Themed Run” will work legally.

Schaefer is upbeat about the whole thing. “I can’t be negative about this,” she says. “My mom was like, ‘How cool is it that you did something that got a cease-and-desist?’”

Follow @dhm on Twitter.