Updated: Jul 21, 2022
According to the BOARDROOM, attorneys for Giannis Antetokounmpo have filed a lawsuit against Leaf Trading Cards (“Leaf”) over the use of the NBA superstar’s “Greek Freak” nickname and likeness. Prior to the 2013 draft where he was selected 15th overall, Leaf and Antetokounmpo agreed on an intellectual property licensing agreement. The details included Antetokounmpo signing 1,000 autographs at $8 each with the option for more along with rights to include Antetokounmpo’s name, nickname, and photo in its trading cards. (Sprung, 2022). Antetokounmpo’s attorneys say it was only a one-year deal and was terminated May 2014. Therefore, the deal was never renewed. However, Leaf continued selling items with the Greek Freak mark and Antetokounmpo’s name, nickname, picture, and likeness after May 2014.
“Antetokounmpo’s legal counsel wrote to Leaf, demanding that it cease its infringing activities and provide a full accounting of all merchandise sold that included Antetokounmpo’s registered trademarks and rights of publicity.” (Heitner, 2022). The 21-page suit, filed in U.S. District Court in New York by law firm, Pardalis & Nohavicka, alleges trademark infringement, dilution, interference with prospective economic advantage, and as well as confusing and deceiving the public that Leaf and the NBA champion were still associated.
Growing up most sports fans collected sports cards and could not wait to open a pack to find their favorite player. Surprisingly this has gone on since the 1800s. Sports cards were marketed with big businesses and were found inside packs of cigarettes, gum, and even taffy. (Huddleston, 2021). Multiple generations have passed down their old sports cards and, in some families, could even be a tradition to do so. Due to the pandemic people started to get their card filled shoe boxes out of the attic and started to uncover cards they probably have not seen in decades. This has created a surge of nostalgia and people wanting to get back to their roots as a child by collecting cards again. In February 2021, eBay reported that sports card sales in 2020 increased on the site by 142 percent over 2019, with more than 4 million cards sold. (Beer, 2021).
When a product becomes popular it always turns into a huge business. Seven of the ten biggest sports cards sales in history have taken place over the past eight months and, during that span, the record for the “most expensive card ever sold” has been shattered twice. As of March 30, the current record holder is a 1952 Topps Micky Mantle card that was purchased for $5.2 million, according to Action Network. Topps who is one of the most popular sports card companies is valued at $1.3 billion. (Schwartz, 2021). A fun activity that was done as a child now has huge money and even more potential involved. Famous people and influencers such as Steve Aoki, Quavo, Snoop Dogg, and Gary Vaynerchuk are getting in on the action.
Along with physical cards, NBA sports cards are now digital. Dapper Labs created digital collectables called NBA Top Shot. These digital cards capture an NBA player's best highlights within a blockchain-based NFT which are called moments. Each moment has a specific serial number to them so they cannot be duplicated or counterfeit unlike physical cards. People can now own and sell moments from their favorite player’s career instead of a plain card with a picture on it. On Feb. 26, 2021, more than 200,000 collectors waited in an online queue for the chance to buy one of just 10,600 new virtual packs of NBA Top Shot moments. Top Shot reportedly is valued at $2 billion, and more than $280 million has been spent on the NBA Top Shot platform since it launched online in October 2021, according to data tracker CryptoSlam. (Huddleston, 2021).
Accordingly, due to the increase of potential in the sports card world whether that’s physical or digital there is huge money to be made and Leaf was not going to miss out on the opportunity. In the last few years, Antetokounmpo has taken the league by storm. At only 27 years old, he has already won an NBA championship, Finals MVP, 2x NBA MVP, 5x All-Star, NBA Defensive Player of the Year, and many more accolades. Antetokounmpo has propelled himself to being a top-three player every year and one of the most marketable players in the league, with his unique length and athleticism (hence the nickname “Greek Freak”). Antetokounmpo’s Top Shot 2014 layup sold for $137k and his rookie card sold for $1.8 million in 2020. (Huddleston, 2021). Truly, Antetokounmpo is a once-in-a-generation talent, and people are willing to pay a significant amount of money for any of his memorabilia.
In order for this case to be settled, the specifics of the licenses will be vital. “Licenses means a contract exists allowing one company (the licensee) to use the property of another (the licensor). Most commonly for cards, the licensed content includes the player's image, the team name, uniform, professional league logo, etc.” (Baseball Card Legal Terms, 2011). If the case results in Antetokounmpo’s favor, then it is likely that the wording in the licenses is clear that it was just a one-year deal, and Leaf can no longer use his trademarked phrase “Greek Freak.” On the other hand, there could be a few reasons why this case would not result in Antetokounmpo’s favor. Typically, to protect something on the card, a patent number will be listed. Antetokounmpo did not receive registration of the “Greek Freak” trademark until February 2018. With no trademark in 2013, there could be a way for Leaf to create these cards up to that point. Therefore, with the trend of physical and digital sports cards increasing, Leaf wants to do everything in their power to be able to create as many cards as possible with Antetokounmpo’s name, image, and likeness.
Baseball Card Legal Terms. (2011, June 16). Retrieved from The Cardboard Connection: https://www.cardboardconnection.com/baseball-card-legal-terms
Beer, T. (February, 11 2021). EBay Reports Increase Of 4 Million Trading Cards Sold In 2020. Retrieved from Forbes: https://www.forbes.com/sites/tommybeer/2021/02/11/ebay-reports-increase-of-4-million-trading-cards-sold-in-2020/?sh=7ab00f801963
Heitner, D. (2022, January 20). Giannis Antetokounmpo Attacks Leaf Trading Cards For Using His Marks And Publicity. Retrieved from Above the Law: https://abovethelaw.com/2022/01/giannis-antetokounmpo-attacks-leaf-trading-cards-for-using-his-marks-and-publicity/
Huddleston, T. (2021, March 6). The Sports Trading Card Boom: Baseball Cards Selling for Millions and the Crypto Craze Hits NBA Top Shot. Retrieved from CNBC: https://www.cnbc.com/2021/03/06/explaining-sports-trading-card-boom.html
Schwartz, N. (May, 16 2021). Sports Card Collecting is Having a Historic Boom Right Now and Here’s Why. Retrieved from Deseret: https://www.deseret.com/entertainment/2021/5/16/22334507/sports-card-collecting-boom-explained-nft-future
Sprung, S. (2022, January 17). Giannis Antetokounmpo Sues Trading Card Maker for “Greek Freak” Infringement. Retrieved from BOARDROOM: https://boardroom.tv/giannis-antetokounmpo-greek-freak-lawsuit/