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NBA legend Michael Jordan filed a pair of $5 million lawsuits against two Chicago-area grocery stores — Dominick’s Finer Foods and Jewel Food Stores — for using his identity without permission in ads that were published in a commemorative Sports Illustrated issue lauding Jordan’s achievements. Each of the ads — which featured Jordan’s name and jersey number (23!) — also promoted Dominick’s and Jewel. The Dominick’s ad and resulting lawsuit are particularly meaty — this particular ad included a $2 coupon for Rancher’s Reserve Steak — a trademarked brand of Dominick’s parent company, Safeway.
Where’s the beef, you ask? Why would a celebrity of Jordan’s stature be worrying his pretty little head about the one-time misuse of his image and identity to hawk $2 coupons for grocery-store steaks? It’s not as if his image is being used to promote something unsavory or embarrassing. Helpfully, Jordan’s complaint against Dominick’s (available here) explains:
“Jordan has . . . had enormous success as an endorser of products and services” and “[b]y carefully controlling the nature and frequency of his product endorsement . . . Jordan has enhanced and maintained the value of his endorsements.” Indeed, the complaint goes on to reveal that “[t]he majority of Jordan’s income, and his income potential, is now derived from his ability to license his name and persona to commerical sponsors. . . As a business, the licensing of Jordan’s identity is just as important to him now as his professional basketball playing career once was.”
So basically, Jordan’s image and identity are just too darn valuable to allow even the most minor of infringements. And as it turns out, His Airness has already lent his identify to an eponymous line of steakhouses and mail-order steaks, creating the possibility that consumers could be confused about which steak products he is endorsing. So maybe Jordan’s lawsuit isn’t so silly after all. Read more about the lawsuit here, here, and here.
Our friendly advice to Dominick’s and Jewel? Go out and get a legitimate celebrity endorsement for your products. We can think of one charismatic athlete whose endorsement might be available for quite a bargain.