When Reebok introduced a green New York Jets T-shirt with the number 15 and star National Football League 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 AG, "has no authorization from Mr. Tebow or anyone else to use Mr. Tebow's name or other identification on such Jets product," said the lawsuit, dated March 27 and made public on Wednesday.
Nike said it is authorized and licensed to use Tebow's name on football-related products.
A spokeswoman for Adidas declined to comment on the lawsuit.
Nike seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages from Reebok, but makes it clear it wants the profits from sales of the Tebow apparel.
"Reebok has taken upon itself to illegitimately seize on this unique and short-lived consumer opportunity," Nike's lawsuit said. 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."
It said there are only two ways to acquire the right to use an NFL player's name and number on merchandise -- by obtaining the right directly from the player or by entering 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, "nor did it obtain his permission to or consent to the manufacture of Tebow Jets product."
Reebok had a license with the players' union, but it expired before March 1. Tebow was not a player with the Jets until March 21.
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.
The case is Nike Inc v Reebok International, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York No. 12-2275.