Quinn emanuel trial lawyers

Sports Litigation

Introduction Print

Our firm has comprehensive knowledge and experience in all aspects of litigation involving the sports industry.  We have a remarkable track record in state and federal court jury and non-jury trials and appeals, as well as before various domestic and international arbitration tribunals and government agencies.  Although proud of our litigation record, we also understand the importance of exploring alternatives to litigation, and we have achieved outstanding levels of success in the earliest phases of legal disputes. 

Our lawyers are extraordinarily well-versed in the complex marketing and branding issues faced by companies in the sports entertainment industry.  Our breadth of practice is evident in the scope and volume of cases we litigate.  Along with the dozens of federal and state court cases presently being litigated or negotiated, we are actively protecting and policing our clients’ intellectual property rights in the United States Patent and Trademark Office.

We are also conscious of the uniquely public nature of much sports-related litigation.  These disputes are often high-profile and require quick and decisive action.  At the same time, they require a sensitivity to the public images of sports figures, teams and enterprises.  From fan-based websites to cyber-squatters, from First Amendment issues to seizure orders for counterfeit merchandise, we know from decades of experience that sports trademarks attract a great deal of public interest, some of it unwelcome.  We therefore work closely with our clients on public relations issues associated with litigation.

Robert Raskopf, a partner in our New York office, has four decades of trial and appellate experience in sports, media, marketing, advertising and entertainment-related matters.  For over twenty years, Mr. Raskopf has served as outside intellectual property litigation counsel to the NFL and its member clubs, and many of the decisions he has obtained for the NFL are widely recognized as being among the farthest reaching in sports marketing law. Some examples are 1) defeating a claim in a copyright infringement jury trial seeking a percentage of all NFL revenues derived from the use of the inaugural helmet logo of the Baltimore Ravens;  2) defeating a claim in a trade secrets and trademark jury trial for the Green Bay Packers that NFL team colors and numerals could be used by NFL players in a venture without permission of their employers; and 3) maintaining federal trademark registrations for the Washington Redskins against cancellation claims by Native American individuals. In the sports and marketing fields, Mr. Raskopf has also represented Major League Baseball Players Ryan Zimmerman and Ryan Howard, FIFA, the National Hockey League, ESPN, Major League Soccer, Arsenal Football Club, the Mexican National Football Team, the Women’s United Soccer Association, Score/Pinnacle, The National Sports Daily, Playoff/Donruss Trading Cards, the United States Soccer Foundation, Upper Deck, and Clinch Gear.


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Recent Representations Print

  • We represent the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (“FIFA”) in connection with U.S. criminal investigations and prosecutions into allegations of bribery and corruption in the international soccer world.  We are advising FIFA on the investigations and conducting an internal investigation on behalf of the organization.  
  • We represent All-Star Major League Baseball Players Ryan Howard of the Philadelphia Phillies and Ryan Zimmerman of the Washington Nationals in defamation lawsuits filed against Al Jazeera news network which published a report alleging that the players used performance enhancing drugs. This year US District Court Judge Ketani Jackson denied Al Jazeera’s motion to dismiss the libel complaint in a 48 page opinion, and the case is now proceeding to trial. We also represent the players in related investigations of the allegations by Major League Baseball.
  • We represent CONMEBOL, the South American Football Association, in criminal proceedings and investigations by DOJ of allegations of corruption in the international soccer world.
  • We have successfully represented the NFL and the Baltimore Ravens professional football franchise in a series of copyright actions stemming from the adoption by the Ravens of an inaugural logo for its 1996-1998 seasons that plaintiff Frederick Bouchat alleged was substantially similar to a copyrighted drawing he had submitted for consideration. Most recently, Bouchat alleged that the appearance of the Ravens’ inaugural logo in certain video games sold by Electronic Arts (EA) was infringing. We successfully had the case entirely dismissed on summary judgment, persuading the court that the NFL did not license EA to use the logo in the games at issue. We have also very recently succeeded in winning a decision in the 4th Circuit on copyright fair use that not only enabled the Ravens and NFL to prevail but set a significant precedent for documentarians seeking to employ copyrighted matter in their works.
  • We represented The Upper Deck Company in a suit brought against it by CMG Worldwide and The Topps Company, Upper Deck’s largest competitor in the baseball trading card business, for allegedly using various images and signatures of deceased baseball players that had previously been licensed to Upper Deck but were then exclusively licensed to Topps. Topps applied for and received an ex parte temporary restraining order that, if converted to a permanent injunction, would have prevented Upper Deck from selling any baseball cards in 2008. Days later, we successfully overturned the TRO, subsequently defeated Topps’ motion for a preliminary injunction, and eventually obtained a transfer of the case to the Southern District of New York. The case settled promptly after the transfer.
  • We represented The Upper Deck Company in another case in the Southern District of New York brought by Topps regarding the use of colors on trading cards. We successfully defeated Topps’ request for a temporary restraining order.
  • We represented the Dallas Cowboys Football Club (the “Cowboys”) and NFL Properties LLC (“NFLP”) in a dispute concerning ownership of the trademark, “America’s Team” in federal district court in Dallas, Texas. The defendant in the case, a Minnesota-based company, claimed that it owned the rights to the famous trademark because it had obtained a federal registration in 1990. We were tasked with proving that the Cowboys rights in “America’s Team” were superior to those of defendant, notwithstanding that the Cowboys did not itself own a federal trademark registration for the mark. In a forty-page decision the court granted the Cowboys’ and NFLP’s summary judgment on all claims, finding that they had proven federal and common law trademark infringement, unfair competition, dilution and that the defendant had committed fraud on the on the United States Patent and Trademark Office.
  • We represented Major League Soccer in a reverse confusion case wherein a soccer club named the Carolina Dynamos sought to undo the new nickname of an MLS team, the Houston Dynamos.
  • We represented mixed martial arts brand Clinch Gear in trademark action brought by the owners of the western clothing brand “Cinch.”
  • We represent the Washington Redskins in a long-running challenge by Native American petitioners to cancel the Washington Redskins’ trademark registrations. We employed the infrequently used “de novo” appeal to the D.C. District Court to overturn an adverse decision by the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board.  The decision was appealed by the Native Americans to the D.C. Circuit, which found no abuse of discretion and affirmed the grant of summary judgment in all respects.  The petitioners next filed a petition of certiorari with the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing that the Circuit Courts are split as to whether laches is available as a defense to the cancellation of an allegedly disparaging trademark.  We opposed the petition, arguing that no such split existed.  The U.S. Supreme Court denied the petition in November 2009, thus ending the case.  A second petition to cancel the Washington Redskins’ trademark registrations was then brought by five younger Native Americans, in an attempt to overcome a laches defense. That case is now on hold in the US Court of Appeals in the 4th Circuit while the US Supreme Court decides In Re Tam, which is framed to determine whether Lanham Act  Section 2(a) is facially invalid under the First Amendment. Our firm submitted an amicus brief to the USSCT and participated heavily in preparations for the argument held this past January in the USSCT. A decision is pending and expected soon.  
  • We represented the National Football League and the Baltimore Ravens against claims, in the billions, of copyright infringement, brought by an amateur artist regarding the Raven’s helmet logo. After the jury had found for the plaintiff on liability, we were brought in to try the damages case. We obtained a jury verdict of zero damages and persuaded the jury that the logo infringed did not drive any revenue generating activity but, rather, such large revenues were solely the result of the inherent power of the NFL brand and the sport itself. The verdict was affirmed by the Fourth Circuit and the Supreme Court denied cert. We now represent the National Football League and the Baltimore Ravens in a series of copyright cases involving historical uses of that same logo. In one of the cases, we convinced the court to deny a permanent injunction under eBay v. MercExchange, despite a finding of copyright infringement – one of the only courts to do so. Three additional copyright cases have been filed over the past year for the appearance of the same logo in football documentary films, video games, and historical photographs. We convinced the court to consolidate these three actions and expedite limited discovery, allowing for immediate summary judgment briefing on fair use. The 4th Circuit will be hearing argument on the question whether any injunction is appropriate and whether damages are awardable in circumstances where there is no fair use but also no proof of entitlement to injunctive relief or monetary damages is present either.
  • We represented the Mexican National Football Team in an unfair competition case against a calling card company who employed indicia on product and promotional materials corresponding to the official jersey of the team.
  • We represented the owner of the rights to the Heisman Trophy when an athletic club claimed breach of contract. In addition to restoring the marketing and television rights, the client obtained specific performance of the contract and was also awarded damages for the breach.
  • We represented the National Football League and the Cleveland Browns in a trademark infringement case against an apparel company over use of the “Dawg Pound” brand and logo. Obtained summary judgment on trademark priority.
  • We represented Upper Deck in a case brought by Major League Baseball regarding the use of team uniforms and logos on trading cards, defeating a request for a temporary restraining order.
  • We represented ESPN and Orley Adelson Productions, in a trademark infringement action brought by Playmakers LLC, concerning the use of “Playmakers” in the title of a critically acclaimed television series concerning the off-field lives of professional football players. The plaintiff alleged that ESPN’s “Playmakers” series amounted to reverse confusion and overwhelmed its sports agency brand, causing consumers to believe that its agency was owned by or affiliated with ESPN. A preliminary injunction was denied in a federal district court and later affirmed by the Ninth Circuit. The district court later granted ESPN’s motion for summary judgment which was upheld by the Ninth Circuit.
  • We represented Nike when Adidas prevailed on claims in Europe that Nike’s use of two stripes on apparel infringed Adidas’s three-stripe trademark. We filed a complaint on Nike’s behalf in the District Court of Oregon seeking a declaration that Nike was entitled to use two stripes and other decorative striping on apparel and footwear in the United States. After we positioned the case to put the scope of Adidas’s three-stripe mark at issue, Adidas conceded the case and filed a broad covenant not to sue Nike in the United States over apparel and footwear products incorporating a wide variety of multi-stripe designs, including all Nike two-stripe products.
  • We represented the National Football League and the Green Bay Packers in a trademark infringement and trade secret case against a company that had obtained publicity rights from various Packers players to use their names and numbers on football jerseys. Notwithstanding that the defendant had obtained those rights from the players, because it had not received approval from our clients, the jury in Milwaukee rendered a verdict in our favor, which was upheld by the Seventh Circuit
  • We represented ESPN, the owner and creator of the nation’s premier action sports competition known as the X Games, in an action for trademark infringement in federal court in New York against The X Channel, Inc., which intended to launch a national television channel featuring action sports. After obtaining a temporary restraining order, the court quickly set a preliminary injunction hearing and the case settled promptly.
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