Virtual Footwear Could Be Up Next for Shaquille O’Neal and Other ABG Brands, Trademark Filings Indicate

Even Shaquille O’Neal is taking a leap into the metaverse.

The former NBA star, in partnership with Authentic Brands Group, filed for three trademark applications for the word “SHAQ,” last month. According to the filings, these trademarks apply to items including “non-downloadable virtual footwear, clothing, headwear, eyewear” and more “for use in virtual environments.”

Authentic Brands Group currently owns and manages O’Neal’s branded merchandise. O’Neal is also currently the second-largest individual shareholder of the company, which has made headline for dozens of brand and retailer acquisitions, including Forever 21, Barneys New York and JCPenney.

“Just like you might buy a branded product in the real world that says ‘Shaq’ on it, now you might buy one of those in the virtual world,” explained trademark attorney Josh Gerben of Gerben Law Firm.

Launching a line of virtual products would fall in line with O’Neal’s overarching goal to have his name “go on forever,” a reason he said pushed him to partner with ABG in the first place. In addition to owning various brands and retailers, ABG also owns the rights to various celebrities, including Elvis Presley and Muhammad Ali. ABG also filed trademarks in December for Elvis Presley and Sports Illustrated, indicating a desire to protect these brands in a new virtual realm as well.

“The existing registrations that they have on these brands do not cover virtual goods because virtual goods was not a thing five or 10 years ago,” said Gerben, explaining why so many brands are filing trademarks for products and phrases in the virtual world. “No one really thought that you might need protection on something like this.”

In recent months, ABG has doubled down on its expansion into the metaverse. Forever 21, which was acquired by ABG in 2020 after the fashion firm went into bankruptcy in 2019, recently launched an exclusive partnership with Virtual Brand Group, a metaverse creation company, that allows users to buy and sell Forever 21 merchandise and customize their own stores on the Roblox video game platform.

Other retail companies are also diving into the new realm. In December, Nike Inc. acquired RTFKT, a digital creator of virtual sneakers, collectibles and accessories. Before that, Nike filed seven trademark applications related to its goal to create and sell virtual sneakers and apparel. It also partnered with the Roblox video game platform to launch “Nikeland,” a digital world for Nike fans to play games, connect, and dress their avatars in virtual apparel via a digital showroom, which includes products like the Air Force 1 and Nike Blazer.

Adidas Originals recently released its first NFT (Non-Fungible Token) collection titled “Into the Metaverse.” Owners of the NFTs received exclusive access to Adidas Originals experiences and product including virtual wearables for blockchain-based gaming world The Sandbox and other platforms, and exclusive physical product to match.

“All brands are going to want to have some trademark protection around goods that they could sell in the virtual world,” Gerben said. He also emphasized the revenue gains that come with being able to produce and sell goods without factories and materials, and how virtual sales can spur purchases for hard goods in real-life.

Other brands have also hinted at possibly taking the virtual leap. When recently asked about the possibility of entering the metaverse, GOAT Group COO Yunah Lee kept an open mind without revealing any upcoming news.

“Anything is possible,” Lee said at the company’s virtual presentation at the 24th annual ICR conference on Wednesday. “NFTs, Web 3.0, we continue to watch very closely and we do think that these spaces will continue to converge.”

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