Nike (NKE) is taking Boris Berian, one of America’s top runners and an Olympic prospect, to court after the track star ditched the swoosh for a sponsorship with New Balance Athletics.
Nike claims that Berian violated his endorsement deal with the brand as he weighs a new partnership with New Balance amidst a Nike counter offer, which the company said was equivalent, reported the Wall Street Journal.
Berian, who is the world indoor 800-meter champion, is headed to the U.S. Olympic trials starting July 1 in Eugene, Ore., not far from Nike’s Beaverton, Ore. headquarters. However, the Nike lawsuit is trying to prevent him from running without donning the iconic swoosh. Berian may choose not to run in the trials if that’s the case. He’s already withdrawn from two upcoming races to avoid the conflict.
“If Boris has to compete with a Nike affiliation, as Nike is claiming he has to, he will think twice about doing so,” agent Merhawi Keflezighi, told the WSJ.
The original contract between Nike and Berian, signed in June, went through Dec. 31 and included a clause that allowed Nike to match any competing offer for 180 days after the end of the short-term deal. Berian received a term sheet from New Balance in January. Nike claims in its lawsuit that its sponsorship contract with Berian is still in effect and that the company “would suffer serious, substantial, and irreparable harm” if he were to sign on with another brand.
“Nike values its relationships with athletes and we expect them to honor their contractual commitments,” the company said in a statement. “Where necessary we’ll take steps to protect our rights.”
Nike (NKE) endorses some of the top athletes in the world, including LeBron James and Serena Williams. It also has a strong presence in the track and field world where it has inked sponsorship deals with some of the world’s top national teams, including Kenya, China, Germany, and the U.S. It’s also sponsored some of the most famous track and field stars of the years like Carl Lewis, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, and Sebastian Coe. Running is Nike’s biggest sales category, as well, bringing in $4.9 billion for the company in its last fiscal year.
CORRECTION: Boris Berian has received a term sheet from New Balance but has not signed a contract with New Balance. The article previously stated that Berian had signed on to an endorsement deal with New Balance.