A Greenport man known to many as “Mr. Scrabble” is now suing the game’s manufacturer for breach of contract, accusing the company of failing to pay him over $1 million in bonuses he was promised for promoting the game.
Fifth Street Productions, a Greenport public relations company owned by John Williams, is seeking damages from Hasbro Inc. for nine years of allegedly missed payments.
The lawsuit, filed in state Supreme Court in New York City, claims that Fifth Street Productions and Mr. Williams “were a critical component in facilitating the growth of the Scrabble board game, which is now sold in over 120 countries, is available in over 25 languages, and more than 150 million sets have been sold worldwide.”
A 2005 contract between the game company and Fifth Street Productions stated that Hasbro would pay Mr. Williams’ company $10,000 for every 1 percent increase in retail sales of Scrabble products each year. But while the contract was renewed through 2013, Mr. Williams was never paid, according to court documents.
Mr. Williams declined to comment on the suit, citing a gag order that forbids him from discussing anything related to Scrabble or Hasbro itself. A Hasbro representative also did not comment on the suit.
“As a matter of corporate policy, Hasbro does not comment on legal matters,” a company spokesperson wrote in an email.
Mr. Williams was named official spokesperson for Scrabble in 1987, the same year he started running the National Scrabble Association. He began working with Hasbro in 1989 after the company bought the rights to Scrabble.
According to court documents, Mr. Williams “immersed himself in the rules of the game” to represent the board game.
He trained under a Scrabble champion to compete at the “expert level,” co-founded the World Scrabble Championship, set up the National School Scrabble Program, wrote a book on the board game, helped produce five Scrabble shows for ESPN and was profiled in a documentary and a New York Times-bestselling book, the lawsuit states.
When Hasbro began creating spin-off games like Scrabble Slam, Scrabble Flash and Scrabble Scramble to Go, Mr. Williams and his company tested them, according to the claim.
Hasbro also took advantage of Scrabble’s popularity to rebrand other board games like Boggle and Scattergories, which, court documents state, are “no different from their predecessor versions except that the new versions now include ‘Scrabble” in the name.”
Mr. Williams promoted the board game until last year, when he and Hasbro split. The National Scrabble Association was shut down that same year after Hasbro took over all marketing efforts for the game.
“We are choosing … to focus on the amazing experience we’ve had over the years promoting the Scrabble brand and spreading the word about the world’s greatest game,” Mr. Williams said in a statement when the association announced its closure last June. “We sincerely thank everyone who has been a part of this effort.”
The bonus clause in Mr. Williams’ contract was included each year through 2013, the suit claims.
Mr. Williams’ argument states that Hasbro used the contract the company had in place with him to control his message as spokesman, pointing to a statement he was forced to recant in 2013.
Hasbro now claims, court papers show, that the contract expired after the first year in 2005 and was never renewed.