Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Aug 12, 2015

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Basketball great Michael Jordan is in federal court this week to argue that a grocery store chain which referenced him in a 2009 ad improperly used his identity and owes him up to $10 million in damages.  The trial, which is expected to last a week, will feature testimony from Jordan and several expert witnesses who are expected to debate the fair market value that Jordan is owed as a result of the misappropriation of his name.

Michael Jordan Sues over Unauthorized Advertisement

In 2009 the now-defunct grocery store chain Dominick’s Finer Foods ran an advertisement in Sports Illustrated that featured a $2 coupon, a picture of a steak, and a congratulation to Michael Jordan for his induction into the basketball hall of fame that read “Michael Jordan … You are a cut above.” Jordan argued that he has carefully crafted a public image, and companies that use his name without authorization, even in a complimentary message, damage that image and diminish the value of his name. 

In a previous part of the trial a different federal judge decided that Dominick’s should not have used Jordan’s name, so the only issue to resolve in the current action is how much, if any, the company owes for its unauthorized use of Michael Jordan’s name.  During opening arguments, Jordan’s legal team discussed a number of high priced deals the superstar has signed with other companies to argue that the starting price for using his name is $10 million.  In response, attorneys for Safeway, which is the parent company of Dominick’s, argued that Jordan has signed smaller advertising agreements for far less.

Attorneys in Jordan Lawsuit Dispute Value of Unauthorized Ad

The trial began this week with Michael Jordan’s attorneys pointing to several of his high profile advertising agreements between 2000 and 2012 that are worth millions of dollars.  During the 12-year period, Jordan was paid $480 million by Nike, $18 million by Gatorade, $14 million by Hanes underwear, and $14 million from Upper Deck cards.  Citing the recent value of Jordan’s advertising agreements, his legal team argued that Dominick’s improper use of his brand in their advertisement is at least worth $10 million based on his standard fee.

Although the $10 million amount may seem high, attorneys representing Jordan argue that he has spent years carefully crafting his image and he frequently turns down lucrative deals that don’t put him in the most positive light.  Comparing Jordan’s identity to the Hope Diamond, Michael’s attorney told reporters, “If you want the Hope Diamond, you have to buy the Hope Diamond. You can’t just chop off a little piece of it, you have to buy the whole thing.”

To counter Jordan’s argument, attorneys for Safeway have pointed to a number of smaller deals that the basketball legend has agreed to which are more comparable to the ad that Dominick’s ran without authorization.  Jordan was paid $5,000 for an appearance in the board game Scene It, demanded only $5,000 from makers of unauthorized Jordan clothing to cease and desist their illegal us of his image, and received only $100,000 for appearance in a Japanese documentary.  Safeway attorneys further argued that the issue of Sports Illustrated only sold 41,000 copies so the exposure of the improper ad was minimized.

Jordan Trial Expected to Rely on Expert Witness Testimony

Michael Jordan is expected to take the stand to argue that his value was substantially affected by Dominick’s unauthorized ad, but the key testimony is likely to come from sports economists who will take the stand as expert witnesses.  Both sides have hired experts to argue about the value of the ad and how it will impact Jordan’s image going forward, giving jurors the opportunity to make an informed decision about the costs suffered by the plaintiff.  Testimony in the damages trial is expected to wrap up by the end of next week at which point jurors will be asked to determine how much, if any, Michael Jordan is owed.