Reebok: Nike suit over Tebow gear not a good call

Tue Apr 3, 2012 4:37pm EDT

* Reebok says no irreparable injury to Nike Inc

* Court hearing set in Nike's unfair competition claim

By Grant McCool

NEW YORK, April 3 (Reuters) - Reebok says Nike Inc made a bad call by suing it over New York Jets T-shirts bearing the name and No. 15 of popular National Football League quarterback Tim Tebow.

The sports apparel company owned by Germany's Adidas said in court papers on Tuesday that there has been no irreparable injury to Nike through its sale of green Tebow merchandise.

As of April 1, Nike has an exclusive five-year contract with the NFL to sell apparel for all 32 teams in the league. In its lawsuit, Nike accused Reebok of trying to capitalize on "short-lived, intense consumer appetite" for such products after Tebow's March 21 trade to the Jets from the Denver Broncos. .

Reebok lawyers also said the company had the right under an agreement with NFL Players Inc, the licensing arm of the NFL Players Association (NFLPA), the players' union, to use names and numbers of players changing teams during March.

"Given that Mr Tebow has been a member of the NFLPA since he has been in the league, Reebok did not need any permission to use his name and number," Reebok said in papers filed in U.S. District Court in Manhattan.

It said nothing in the license agreement forces Reebok to get new permission when a player switches teams.

U.S. District Judge Kevin Castel issued an order on March 28 preventing Reebok from manufacturing, selling and shipping the apparel that Nike describes as unauthorized. .

Castel, however, rejected Nike's demand that Reebok destroy any unauthorized Tebow products. Barring a settlement, the judge will hear arguments from lawyers for both companies on Wednesday on whether the ban should be extended.

Nike argued in court papers on Tuesday that the order is necessary to protect Nike from irreparable harm, "including harm associated with loss of brand identification and goodwill resulting from sales of Reebok-branded, Tebow-identified, New York Jets-related apparel."

Reebok said it made 6,000 jerseys and 25,000 T-shirts bearing the logos of Jets and the NFL and the name and number of Tebow. Of those, only about 400 jerseys had Reebok's name or logo, the company said. The 25,000 T-shirts and the remaining 5,600 jerseys did not have any Reebok markings, the court document said.

A January poll by Walt Disney Co's ESPN rated Tebow the No. 1 favorite active professional athlete in the United States. The 2007 Heisman Trophy winner, who played for the University of Florida, is also an evangelical Christian who prays on the football field in a pose known as "Tebowing."

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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