Flo Rida Wins $82 Million Verdict in Lawsuit Against Energy Drink Co. Celsius UPDATED

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Rapper Flo Rida appears in Broward County court during his attorney John Uustal's closing argument in his lawsuit against energy drink company Celsius.
Update published 1/19/2023 1:07 p.m.: Rapper Tramar Dillard, better known as Flo Rida, has won an $82.6 million jury verdict in his breach-of-contract lawsuit against beverage giant Celsius.

Dillard alleged that the company stiffed him out of bonus compensation owed under a pair of endorsement contracts that involved his promotion of Celsius products between 2014 and 2018.

The jury found that Celsius failed to provide Dillard with 750,000 shares in stock-based bonuses which he earned after the company met sales benchmarks outlined in the contracts.

Wearing a light-blue sportcoat, a glistening necklace, and glasses, Dillard nodded subtly when Judge David Haimes thanked the jury for their work on the case. The Carol City native, one of the top-selling rappers of all time, hugged his attorneys before the crowd filed out of the Broward County courtroom.

"From the start I only wanted what I worked for, nothing more, nothing less," Dillard said at a post-verdict press conference while holding a Celsius canned product.

The jury sided with Dillard on key points in the case,
finding that the bonus compensation terms in his original endorsement deal with Celsius were extended in 2016, and that sales of the co-branded drink "Flo Fusion" should have been counted in individual packets, not in bulk units as Celsius had contended.

The original story follows below.

Celsius Holdings was once a relatively unknown energy drink company with humble operations based in Boca Raton and a few million dollars in yearly revenue.

Nearly 20 years since its inception, Celsius has become one of the fastest growing companies in the energy drink market, boasting more than a half-billion dollars in annual sales. Over the last two years, the company has taken the fitness community and Gen-Z Tik Tok by storm with its ready-to-guzzle fruity energy drinks.

What was the fuel behind the company's recent success?

If you ask rap superstar Flo Rida and his attorneys, they'd say it was his glowing endorsement and his work in marketing Celsius products under his promotional contracts with the company.

"There is no company without this man," John Uustal of the Kelley Uustal law firm said in his closing arguments in the rapper's breach-of-contract lawsuit against Celsius.

Flo Rida, whose real name is Tramar Dillard, filed the lawsuit in 2021, claiming the energy drink manufacturer failed to pay him royalties and grant him stock bonuses — now worth tens of millions of dollars — after he backed Celsius products under a 2014 endorsement agreement and 2016 contract renewal. Through their partnership, Celsius created a new powder product with the rapper's moniker called "Flo Fusion."

"One percent of the company — that is what he was supposed to get," Uustal added. "Their vision [they] intended happened. This was a big risk for him... He had to give up deals with mature companies worth a lot more money."

As of Wednesday morning, the jury was still deliberating in the case.

Dillard says he is owed 750,000 shares of bonus compensation and additional cash royalties set forth by sales benchmarks under his two contracts with Celsius. Upon signing the original contract, the rapper and his licensing agent D3M received $300,000 and 250,000 shares of stock, according to the defense. The renewal contract awarded Dillard and D3M another $500,000 and 250,000 shares upfront, Celsius says.

Currently, Celsius' stock is priced around $112 per share. Back in 2014, when Dillard joined forces with the beverage maker, a Celsius share was worth less than a dollar. Broward County Judge David Haimes noted yesterday that more than $75 million worth of stock-based compensation is at stake in the case.

"It is beyond the power of the court to order a company to issue stock but the jury and the court can figure out the monetary amount," Uustal said during closing arguments.

At the outset of the trial, Uustal painted a picture of an "international icon" lending a hand to "this little tiny company in financial trouble.

"Celsius was a small company right here in town, a few employees, never turned a profit, deep in debt. It wasn't clear they were going to be able to continue operations, but they had a product that [Dillard] fell in love with," Uustal told the jury last week.

Celsius has contended that the sales goals for its products were never met and that Flo Rida is incorrectly claiming those benchmarks extended past the expiration of the 2014 agreement.

"Nowhere in the 2016 agreement are you going to see the words 'this document extends the benchmarks,'" the company's attorney, Jose Angel Casal, said in his closing argument. "When you look at the emails leading up to the 2016 agreement, there is no mention anywhere about extending the 2014 agreement and the benchmarks."

Casal claimed it was no coincidence that Dillard's demand for the stock bonuses coincided with the sudden increase in the company's share value. When the second endorsement deal expired in October 2018, the stock price was sitting under $4. During the onset of the pandemic, Dillard sold some of the shares he received upfront from the endorsement deals, a decision that the defense speculates may be a source of regret for the rapper.

"Nobody complained until 2021," Casal contended. "Only when the money got tight during the pandemic when Celsius' stock price went through the roof, that's when all of these arguments came to light. You can't change the rules of the game after the fact. The math is the math. The sales just did not meet expectations."

Celsius claims its meteoric success had little to do with the rapper and was instead attributable to a new distribution deal with Anheuser-Busch, as well as the opening of distribution channels once Bang Energy began an exclusive partnership with PepsiCo in 2018.

"All of these things happened after October 2018, and the stock price started to go up in 2020," Casal said. "Respectfully, Mr. Dillard has no real part in the success because those contracts were over and everyone had moved on... A business deal is a business deal — you don't get a do-over because you are unhappy with the results."