NEW YORK Nike Inc beat its rival Reebok International in court on Wednesday in a legal pile-up over the use of popular National Football League quarterback Tim Tebow's name and number on shirts of his new team, the New York Jets.
A federal judge in New York converted a temporary order of March 28 into a preliminary injunction stopping Reebok, a unit of Germany's Adidas AG, from making, selling and shipping Tebow's green Jets No. 15 jerseys and T-shirts.
Nike sued Reebok on March 27, arguing that it is authorized and licensed to use Tebow's name on football-related products. Reebok, Nike said, tried to capitalize on "short-lived intense consumer appetite for such products" after Tebow's surprise March 21 trade to the Jets from the Denver Broncos.
"Instead of Tim Tebow being associated with the Nike swoosh, Reebok would be the beneficiary of the association" if further production or sales of the apparel were not halted, U.S. District Judge Kevin Castel ruled from the bench.
"This is a situation where money damages would not make Nike whole," said the judge, who will preside over the litigation as it continues between the sports apparel companies.
Tebow's No. 15 Broncos uniform had been among the NFL's top-selling jerseys before his trade to the Jets. He moved when the Broncos signed star quarterback Peyton Manning, who had previously played for the Indianapolis Colts.
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."
Nike also said Reebok has no current agreement to sell Tebow-related Jets products and that a Reebok merchandising license with the NFL players union expired at the end of February. Reebok argued that 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.
As of April 1, Nike has an exclusive five-year contract with the NFL to sell apparel for all 32 teams in the league. The apparel was unveiled on Tuesday but won't be available until late April.
"It is a minor hardship for New York Jets and Tim Tebow fans to have to wait to get their jerseys," Castel said in his ruling.
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 in court documents. The 25,000 T-shirts and the remaining 5,600 jerseys did not have any Reebok markings, the court documents said.
Reebok lawyer Julian Friedman told the judge there were 31,000 units at stake with total estimated revenues of $500,000 that cannot be sold.
The judge denied Nike lawyer Randolph Foster's request for an order to destroy the merchandise. "It can't be sold so that's not necessary," the judge said.
The case is Nike Inc v Reebok International, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York No. 12-2275.
(Reporting By Grant McCool; Editing by Gary Hill and Tim Dobbyn)