By Matt Hudgins*
In a rare legal skirmish between a sporting goods manufacturer and a university, the University of Pittsburgh has sued Nike Inc. to void the last year of a 3-year contract, which reportedly requires the university’s football program to accept and use Nike uniforms and equipment.
Attorneys Mike Manzo and Charles Gibbons of the Pittsburgh law firm Klett Rooney Lieber & Schorling are representing Pitt in the case. Manzo declined to comment to Sports Litigation Alert when asked about the status of Pitt’s filing.
“We just got involved and we’re still trying to get our arms around it,” he said.
In the filing, the university argued it didn’t sign a contract Nike put forward in August 2002, in which Nike offered to give the school 100 free uniforms and equipment. Nike has provided those items for the past two years.
Beaverton, Ore.-based Nike responded to the suit in a written statement issued Feb. 11:
“Nike Inc. has been the supplier of performance athletic footwear and apparel products to the University of Pittsburgh football team since 2002, two years of a three-year contract,” Nike stated. “The University of Pittsburgh and Nike are in dispute about the arrangement, but we hope to reach an amicable agreement.”
A story in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review indicated Nike accused Pitt of trying to exit the relationship in order to look for a better deal from other manufacturers.
Other news organizations, have speculated that the value of rights to serve as Pitt’s exclusive on-field supplier have increased in the two years since Nike assumed that role. One reason for the school’s higher profile is attributable to the performance of wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, a runner-up for the Heisman Trophy last fall.
But notoriety, attributable to one player, typically does not garner heightened interest from Nike or other sporting goods manufacturers, who are more likely to woo schools with a strong coach or other assets likely to sustain a team’s prominence over several years, said Mike Mays, director of communications for the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association.
“In many cases, companies will invest and sign deals with coaches because coaches are a more permanent entity in the program and have a longer life span at the schools,” Mays told Sports Litigation Alert. “Coaches are also extremely visible, and they do happen to get a lot of camera time – Any time that you can have a coach in the spotlight showcasing a particular emblem or logo, that adds to the marketing value.”
*Matt Hudgins is a contributing writer to Sports Litigation Alert