Nike Inc. is accusing Reebok of trying to score an illegal Tim Tebow marketing touchdown.
Nike sued its rival in U.S. District Court, saying that Reebok used the popular NFL quarterback’s name and number on New York Jets iconic green T-shirts without its permission. Tebow was traded to the Jets from the Denver Broncos last week.
Reebok, says Nike, is trying to capitalize on “short-lived intense consumer appetite for such products.”
Tebow has drawn attention not only as a top athlete, but for open displays of his evangelical Christian faith on the playing field. The pose he assumes has come to be known as “Tebowing.” His Broncos No. 15 jersey was among the top selling in the National Football League. He left Denver after it signed star quarterback Peyton Manning, who had played for the Indianapolis Colts.
Nike said it is authorized and licensed to use Tebow’s name on football-related products. It is seeking unspecified compensatory and punitive damages from Reebok.
A spokeswoman for Adidas AG, the parent of Reebok, declined to comment on the lawsuit. The complaint was dated Tuesday and made public on Wednesday.
The complaint also accused Reebok of undermining an event scheduled for April 3 in New York to mark Nike’s five-year deal as the league’s exclusive provider of on-field clothing and shoes for all 32 NFL teams.
Nike said there are only two ways to acquire the right to use an NFL player’s name and number on merchandise — by obtaining the rights 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 it has a license with the players as well as the 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, the complaint said. Nike said that license applied only to Denver Broncos apparel and Tebow did not become a Jets player until March 21.
A Tebow representative wrote to Reebok on March 23, demanding 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.
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