NEW YORK — The Nike and Reebok rivalry is about to reach a new level.

This story first appeared in the March 29, 2012 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Nike Inc. slapped Reebok International Ltd. with a lawsuit Wednesday, claiming that its competitor has been selling National Football League apparel and products bearing Tim Tebow’s name without authorization.

Following Tebow’s trade to the New York Jets from the Denver Broncos, Nike said there has been “an immediate and short-lived intense consumer demand for Tim Tebow-identified New York Jets-branded apparel,” and that Reebok has “taken it upon itself to illegitimately seize on this unique and short-lived consumer opportunity.”

According to the lawsuit, Nike is authorized and licensed to use the newly minted Jets quarterback’s name on football-related products, “unlike Reebok.”

The Adidas A.G.-owned Reebok has “never had an agreement with Tebow individually, nor did it obtain permission or consent to manufacture Tebow Jets product,” according to court papers filed in New York federal court.

As a result, a Tebow representative wrote a letter to Reebok on March 23, claiming it was misappropriating the quarterback’s name, and advising it to stop selling the branded product. Reebok never responded, according to the lawsuit.

Instrumental to the suit is Nike’s contention that Reebok’s license with the NFL Players Association expired on March 1, well before March 21, when Tebow was traded.

According to the complaint, Reebok’s NFL Properties license to use NFL marks on apparel expires March 31. Starting April 1, Nike will succeed Reebok as the supplier of NFL team uniforms and as a licensee to manufacture and sell certain NFL-authorized apparel featuring NFL marks. Until then Reebok may create new products featuring NFL marks, but not new products featuring an individual player without his consent.

Claiming misappropriation of publicity rights, interference with business relationships and unjust enrichment, Nike is not only looking for Reebok to stop selling the “unauthorized Tebow product,” but also punitive damages and other costs.

“Reebok was notified of the lawsuit only earlier today and had no prior knowledge of any dispute,” said a Reebok spokesman. “At this time we still have not seen all the legal papers, and therefore, have no comment.”

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