Tim Tebow has only been a New York Jet for one week, but he’s already the subject of a legal battle between two of the most powerful names in the sports business world. Nike filed a lawsuit against Reebok on Tuesday accusing its arch-rival of misappropriating Nike’s rights by introducing a Tebow shirt after the star was traded from the Denver Broncos to the Jets. The dispute underscores the high stakes surrounding the arrival of Tebow, one of the most famous pro athletes in the country, in the nation’s top media market.
Reebok, which is owned by German sportswear giant Adidas, introduced the green Jets T-shirt with Tebow’s name and number 15 last week, shortly after the trade. In the lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in New York, Nike said that Reebok was trying to take quick advantage of the frenzy surrounding Tebow’s arrival in New York.
“Tebow’s trade to the New York Jets, coupled with the franchise’s location within the NFL’s largest market and the nation’s media center, has created enormous demand for Tebow-identified New York Jets apparel,” Nike said in the lawsuit. “Reebok has no authorization from Mr. Tebow or anyone else to use Mr. Tebow’s name or other information on such Jets product. Unlike Reebok, Nike is authorized and licensed to use Mr. Tebow’s name on such product.”
In addition to selling Tebow merchandise in the New York area, Reebok is supplying the gear to Internet retailers for sale elsewhere around the country, Nike charged in the lawsuit. The company said its attempts to obtain orders with retailers for authorized Tebow gear have been “rebuffed” because retailers “have pending orders with Reebok and want to sell through their inventory before placing orders with Nike.”
Nike says it has a license acquired directly from Tebow, as well as a “group license” from the NFL Players Association, the players’ union. Reebok had previously had a license with the players’ union, but it expired before March 1, according to the suit.
Nike acknowledges that Reebok has the right to sell its inventory of pre-March 1 Tebow merchandise, but that would consist only of Denver Broncos gear, not Jets gear, because Tebow joined the Jets on March 21.
On March 23, a Tebow representative notified Reebok that its use of the players name was unauthorized and demanded that Reebok remove all such products from retailers, according to the lawsuit, which says that Reebok did not respond to the request. Tebow signed an exclusive agreement with Nike on March 24, the lawsuit says.
Nike is demanding an injunction to stop Reebok from selling what it believes to be “large volumes” of Tebow merchandise in advance of the official unveiling of the new Nike-made NFL league uniforms on April 3.
“Unless Reebok is restrained from supplying unauthorized Tebow-identified jets apparel, the current unique consumer demand for these products will be satisfied or substantially reduced, and the opportunity for Nike to fully realize the benefits of the unique period of demand will be lost forev,” the lawsuit says.
In addition to an injunction, Nike is seeking all of Reebok’s profits for the sale of the Tebow gear.
In a statement, Reebok said it “was notified of the lawsuit only earlier today and had no prior knowledge of any dispute. At this time we still have not seen all the legal papers, and therefore, have no comment.”