Gary Player licence dispute a first

Prior to the collapse of the Internet, numerous athletes and other celebrities entered into endorsement deals with e-commerce companies. Over the last year many of those endorsement deals have unravelled. Celebrities who have unilaterally terminated their endorsement agreements have inexorably damaged many online companies with which they made deals. In most cases, such terminations have proved to be the company's death knell.

A contract and trademark dispute between golf legend Gary Player and an online marketing firm to which he had licensed his name is the first to be determined by a court. The first round has gone to Player.

The US District Court for the Southern District of Florida has issued a temporary restraining order that prohibits Gary Player Golf Inc (GPG), a subsidiary of Golf.com, from using Player's name or likeness or his Black Knight logo in conjunction with its sales activities. The injunction also prohibits GPG from contacting the Callaway Golf Company, a club manufacturer with which Player recently signed an endorsement deal.

GPG was formed in early 2000. Prior to September 6 2001, Gary Player's son, Marc, served as chairman of the board of GPG while at the same time serving as president of Gary Player's wholly owned company, The Player Group. In consideration for Player's endorsement of GPG products and his involvement in GPG decision-making, GPG granted Player a substantial amount of stock in the company and royalties on each sale of Gary Player brand golf equipment and accessories. On July 5 Gary Player and The Player Group terminated their agreement with GPG claiming that GPG had failed to pay $175,000 in royalties. Several weeks later, Gary Player entered into an endorsement deal with top golf equipment manufacturer Callaway Golf. In response, Golf.com informed Callaway that Player was already under contract to GPG. According to GPG, Marc Player asked the company to wait to file suit against his father, but then resigned on September 6 to litigate on his father's and The Player Group's behalf.

In his complaint, Player alleged that GPG fraudulently used his name after July 5 and interfered with his endorsement deal with Callaway Golf. Both the district court and a special magistrate appointed by the court to investigate the allegations agreed with Player.

In a statement discussing the temporary restraining order, GPG states that it expects to win the case at trial. The Player Group, however, claims that it attempted to help GPG resolve financial difficulties that jeopardized its relationship with Gary Player.

No trial date has been set yet. Pending trial, GPG has been forced to change its name to Golf Player International.

Douglas Wood and Linda Goldstein, Hall Dickler Kent Goldstein & Wood LLP, New York

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