In a number of our posts, we have highlighted the importance of a company’s brand; or more importantly, how they must control how their brand (or brand name) is perceived in the marketplace. This is part of the reason why Subway recently suspended its relationship with its longtime pitchman Jared Fogle when federal agents raided his house last month; before he pled guilty to federal child pornography and teen sex charges.
The commercial use and control of a person’s name is also an important aspect of doing business. After all, brand equity can be just as valuable as the product itself. This is likely the impetus behind Michael Jordan’s lawsuit against Dominick’s, a now defunct grocery chain that used the basketball legend’s name in an advertisement promoting steaks without his permission.
The ad reportedly ran in a commemorative version of Sports Illustrated in 2009, and only two customers redeemed the $2 steak coupon bearing Jordan’s name. Before the matter went to trial this summer, a federal district court had already determined that Dominick’s was liable. The sole question before the jury was the calculation of damages. Dominick’s lawyers believed that the company was only on the hook for $126,000. Jordan believed that they were liable for much more, since he only signs long term deals worth at least $10 million, and he testified that he would never have agreed to such a paltry amount with Dominick’s.
The jury ultimately awarded Jordan $8.9 million. Given that he is a billionaire, it’s not like he was hurting for money. However, protecting his brand, as well as his competitive nature, proved to be important enough to see the suit through to the end.