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Athletes

The Big A.I.? Licensing Group Files Trademarks Hinting at Virtual Shaq

  • A source tells FOS Shaquille O’Neal came to the company, which owns Sports Illustrated, with the idea for a generative A.I. product.
  • Applications for "ASK SHAQ" and "SHAQ AI" were filed on Thursday.
Shaquille O'Neal
Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Details of Shaquille O’Neal’s latest venture were detailed in two U.S. Patent and Trademark Office filings on Thursday: an artificial intelligence product for Authentic, the licensing group that owns Sports Illustrated.

The filings for “ASK SHAQ” and “SHAQ AI” include few details of the project, but a source with knowledge of situation told Front Office Sports that the potential A.I. play was the Hall of Famer’s idea and that he first broached it with Authentic only days before the trademark filings. 

An A.I. chatbot or similar product remains months off, the source said. 

“Authentic owns the rights to Shaq’s personal name brand,” Josh Gerben, founding partner of Gerben Perrott PLLC, told FOS. “This could be a sort of chatbot that’s based on Shaq, where people would be able to go in and ask questions, and A.I. Shaq would answer.”

The two trademark applications have nearly identical descriptions, including: 

  • Downloadable computer software for the artificial production of text relating to sports and entertainment.
  • Downloadable computer programs and downloadable computer software for natural language processing, generation, understanding and analysis relating to sports and entertainment.
  • Downloadable computer programs and downloadable computer software for creating and generating text relating to sports and entertainment.

Authentic, formerly known as Authentic Brands Group, partnered with O’Neals Shaq athletic brand in 2015, and O’Neal turned around and invested half those proceeds back into Authentic. O’Neal, one of Authentic’s largest independent shareholders, was tapped as the president of Reebok Basketball, which Authentic owns, in October.

Authentic purchased Reebok for $2.46 billion in 2021 and created O’Neal’s position as part of an effort to compete with the likes of Nike, Adidas and Under Armour.

As for the potential A.I. venture, “it might be an interesting interactive tool for people,” Gerben said. “I’d expect there would be some kind of integration into the broader Shaq brand, like merchandise and other things that [Authentic] sells.”

The trademark filings come days after Sports Illustrated was the focus of a Futurism story that suggested SI had used A.I.-generated content without disclosing it to readers. 

Authentic purchased SI in 2019, but the publication’s management was licensed to Arena Group Holdings (which was known as Maven at the time).

An Arena Group spokesperson pushed back this week on the Futurism story, saying: 

“The articles in question were product reviews and were licensed content from an external, third-party company, AdVon Commerce. A number of AdVon’s e-commerce articles ran on certain Arena websites … We have learned that AdVon had writers use a pen or pseudo name in certain articles to protect author privacy — actions we don’t condone — and we are removing the content while our internal investigation continues and have since ended the partnership.”

News that A.I.-generated content potentially ran on SI.com without any sort of disclosure “angered” executives at Authentic, according to a source.

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