Publicity rights are a major part of sports law and the Florida sports industry. Athlete endorsements can help sell a lot of sportswear and other goods, so these endorsements are worth a lot of money. At the same time, sports fans feel a sense of involvement in the accomplishments of their favorite athletes, and feel that these personalities belong, in a sense, to the public. The clash between these two interests can make for some difficult legal issues.
Recently, a court ruled in favor of basketball hero Michael Jordan after he sued a supermarket chain that ran an advertisement that mentioned him without his permission. The ad, which ran in a special issue of Sports Illustrated magazine, congratulated Jordan on his induction to the Hall of Fame. It did not feature a photo of the former NBA star, but mentioned him in its text and featured a picture of basketball shoes bearing his player number. It also bore the supermarket chain’s motto.
Jordan argued that the advertisement misappropriated his identity. Jordan’s endorsement on a product is worth at least $5 million, his lawyers claim.
The supermarket chain argued that its advertisement should be protected by freedom of speech because it was not commercial speech. Under the U.S. Constitution, commercial speech does not get the same level of protection that other forms of speech enjoy. However, the court ruled that the advertisement was commercial in nature because it was meant to establish consumer goodwill toward the supermarket.
There’s nothing simple about sports law. In the law of athlete endorsements, even a congratulatory advertisement like this one can quickly run into constitutional issues of free speech. It’s important for all those in Florida’s sports industry to have the assistance of attorneys with experience in this specialized are of the law.
Source: ESPN Chicago, “Jordan ruling could set precedent,” Darren Rovell, Feb. 20, 2014