When Reebok introduced a green New York Jets T-shirt with the number 15 and star NFL quarterback Tim Tebow's name on it last week, Nike Inc. says its rival was misappropriating Nike's rights.
In a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in New York, Nike accused Reebok of taking unfair advantage of "Tebow-Mania" -- the phenomenon surrounding the quarterback who moved to the Jets from the Denver Broncos. Tebow has drawn attention across the United States not just as a sportsman, but for his open displays of his evangelical faith on the field.
Reebok, a unit of Adidas, "has no authorization from Mr. Tebow or anyone else to use Mr. Tebow's name or other identification on such Jets products," read the lawsuit, dated March 27 and made public yesterday.
Nike said only they are authorized and licensed to use Tebow's name on football-related products.
The Adidas unit was producing and selling Tebow-identified Jets apparel products "in order to capitalize on the public's short-lived intense consumer appetite for such products, and to prevent Nike from doing so," according to Nike's suit.
And Tebow himself is apparently even getting involved in the battle. A representative of Tebow wrote to Reebok on March 23 and demanded that it discontinue using his name and remove the products from all locations, the lawsuit said.
Who controls Tebow name?
According to the suit, Nike claims there are only two ways to acquire the right to use an NFL player's name and number on merchandise.
The first would be to obtain the right directly from the player.
Companies can also enter a so-called "group license" with NFL Players Inc., the licensing arm of the NFL Players' Association, the players' union.
Nike said that it has a license with both player and union, and that Reebok never had an agreement with Tebow individually.