Muhammad Ali Enterprises filed a $30 million federal lawsuit against Fox Broadcasting Company in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois on Tuesday, claiming Fox used the late boxer’s identity without permission in a video that aired just before its broadcast of the Super Bowl last February.
In the lawsuit, Muhammad Ali Enterprises contends that Fox used Ali’s “name, image and likeness as the centerpiece of its three-minute promotional video” before its broadcast of the game that attracted a national audience of 111 million viewers.
In explaining just how valuable Ali’s name and image were to Fox, the lawsuit contends that Fox could have sold those three minutes of time just before the start of the Super Bowl to advertisers for $30 million.
“Fox obtained great value by using Muhammad Ali to promote itself,” attorney Frederick J. Sperling, with Schiff Hardin LLP and who filed the lawsuit, said in a statement. “It should pay for what it took.”
The lawsuit contends that the video, which included the images of NFL greats such as Joe Montana, Vince Lombardi and Tom Brady, was “far more” than a tribute to Ali eight months after his death.
It says the video was done in such a way as to “define greatness and ultimately compare the NFL legends to Ali and thus to define them and the Super Bowl as ‘greatness’ too.”
The lawsuit also says the video “falsely implies” that Ali or Muhammad Ali Enterprises had endorsed Fox. Muhammad Ali Enterprises owns the trademark rights, copyrights, the right of publicity and all other intellectual property rights of Ali.
Eddie Motl, a Fox vice president, declined to comment on the lawsuit.
Two years ago, a federal jury awarded basketball legend Michael Jordan $8.9 million in his lawsuit against the now-defunct Dominick’s Finer Foods for using his identity in an advertisement without his permission.
Sperling was also involved in that case.
Last year, Sperling filed in Chicago a $30 million lawsuit on behalf of soccer legend Pele, claiming that electronics company Samsung improperly used a Pele look-alike in an advertisement for televisions.
The lawsuit said it would hurt the value of his endorsement rights.