SBD/July 17, 2017/Marketing and Sponsorship

Former Ohio State Football Player Chris Spielman Sues School Over Use Of Likeness

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Spielman will donate any money he might get back to the OSU athletic department
Former Ohio State LB Chris Spielman is the plaintiff in a class-action suit "filed in federal court in Columbus" against OSU on behalf of all former and current football players, according to Rabinowitz, King & Oller of the COLUMBUS DISPATCH. Spielman: "I feel sick about it. But I believe in doing the right thing. ... Players have a right. If somebody wanted to endorse you, don’t you think you have a right to say yes or no, or to negotiate? That’s a common-sense thing. We want to be partners. We don’t want to be adversaries." Spielman said that his attorney, Brian Duncan, "tried for eight months to resolve the issue with Ohio State." In the suit, Spielman "asks for more than $75,000, but that’s simply an amount typical in such complaints." Regardless, Spielman said that he would "donate any money he might get back to the Ohio State athletic department." The lawsuit "takes issue with 64 banners hung in Ohio Stadium featuring players’ likenesses and a corporate logo for Honda on them, but it also mentions jerseys, photographs, signatures and more." The lawsuit also names companies including IMG College, WME, DBA Int'l Management, Honda and Nike. Duncan said that Spielman’s "main issue" is with IMG College, which reps OSU in multimedia rights negotiations. Duncan said, "They all knew better than to do this, and they can’t do this again in the future." Nike is "targeted for its 'Legends of the Scarlet and Gray' vintage jersey-licensing program and other apparel contracts with Ohio State" (COLUMBUS DISPATCH, 7/15).  

LOVE-HATE RELATIONSHIP: The DISPATCH's Rob Oller wrote negotiations between OSU and Duncan "dragged over the past eight months without any compensatory agreement being reached." Oller: "My hunch? Ohio State attorneys never thought Spielman would follow through with a suit and he called their bluff." A source said that OSU "eventually made an offer that was about $230,000 -- spread over the 64 players featured on the banners." Oller: "I see coming to a head the culmination of bad blood that has been brewing for more than a decade between old-school Buckeyes and new-school administrators, who take a business-first approach to everything." Spielman’s suit is the "drop of oil on the garage floor that signals more serious issues, in this case university exploitation and arrogance" (COLUMBUS DISPATCH, 7/16). In Cincinnati, Paul Daugherty writes Spielman has "been in business with a Columbus-area Mazda dealer for two decades." Spielman: "It makes me look hypocritical. Anything I put my name on, I believe in." Spielman "isn’t some out-there crusader, tilting at windmills." Daugherty: "He loves Ohio State. Enough, as it turns out, to sue it." Spielman "doesn’t want to harm" the school. He wants to "educate it." Spielman: "Let’s be on the forefront of doing it the right way. Change is coming. It’s inevitable" (CINCINNATI ENQUIRER, 7/17).

JUST THE FIRST DOMINO? The Cleveland PLAIN DEALER writes the lawsuit "could be a step in a battle that changes how college sports function." At the very least, it is a "public battle that's hard to fathom." Spielman and Archie Griffin on one side, the university they "stand for in so many ways on the other side." This is "much more personal" than the Ed O'Bannon lawsuit against the NCAA, and having Griffin on board "is enormous." There is an expectation that more former OSU football players will "join in and seek damages," but the case is "not about money." It is about "control -- of money" (Cleveland PLAIN DEALER, 7/17). SI.com's Michael McCann wrote the lawsuit is "significant on at least five levels." Spielman's lawsuit is a "direct effort to compel a university to follow the O'Bannon ruling." Additionally, the lawsuit could be the "first of many like it," and more lawsuits like this one means a greater chance the Supreme Court "will decide to weigh in." Spielman's lawsuit is "not yet a federal class action," and OSU might be "more poised to settle with Spielman than the NCAA was with O'Bannon" (SI.com, 7/16).
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