Nike Inc. sued Adidas AG’s Reebok International over its use of quarterback Tim Tebow’s name on New York Jets-related clothing, days before Nike is to become the official supplier of licensed National Football League apparel.
Reebok, whose licensing agreement with the NFL ends March 31, illegally tried to capitalize on Tebow’s March 21 trade from the Denver Broncos to the Jets to sell Tebow-related shirts and other clothes, Nike said in a complaint filed yesterday in federal court in Manhattan. Nike claims it, not Reebok, has rights to use Tebow’s name.
Nike, the world’s biggest sporting-goods company, is seeking an order barring Reebok from selling the Tebow items, plus unspecified damages. The company claims Reebok is improperly taking away sales that Nike would otherwise make when it begins its five-year contract with the NFL April 1.
“The opportunity to sell the first Tebow-identified Jets apparel is a unique and short-lived opportunity,” Nike said in its complaint. “It is unlikely that a consumer who purchases an unauthorized Tebow-identified NFL jersey or t-shirt from Reebok this week will purchase an authorized Tebow jersey or t-shirt from Nike the following week.”
An Adidas spokesman, Jan Runau, didn’t immediately reply to a voice-mail message seeking comment on the suit. Joanna Hunter, an NFL spokeswoman, said the league didn’t have an immediate comment on it.
Tebow, 24, helped lead the Broncos to the National Football League playoffs after taking over as the team’s starting quarterback last year.
Tebow, a Christian who prays on the field after his team wins, was named the most popular professional athlete in the U.S. in an ESPN poll this year. His Broncos jersey was the second-highest selling of all NFL players last season, Nike said in the complaint. Public reaction to Tebow’s sudden popularity has been called “Tebow mania.”
According to Nike, a representative of Tebow notified Reebok that it was using his name without authorization and demanded it remove Tebow clothing from stores.
George Atallah, a spokesman for the NFL Players Association, didn’t immediately return an e-mail seeking comment. Jimmy Sexton, Tebow’s agent, didn’t immediately return a phone message.
Nike said it plans to introduce its new line of uniforms for all 32 NFL teams at an event in New York April 3.
The case is Nike Inc. v. Reebok International Ltd., 12-cv-2275, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).