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How NFL Players Association is playing to win in licensing

Source chats to Brandgenuity’s Sophie Booth about the group player licensing programme.

The NFL Players Association and the NFL are tied together by the bond of the players. Both entities have the players at their heart and, of course, the game would not exist without them.

Sophie Booth – manager of new business at NFLPA’s European licensing agency Brandgenuity – is keen to point out that the PA is multi-faceted, taking on numerous roles, from acting as the players’ union to leading the charge on all group player licensing and marketing deal negotiations, including many player activations and endorsements.

“Through a licensing lens, there are a variety of global deals that fuse the League and the Players Association together,” says Sophie.

Nike, the on-field kit provider for the NFL, bears both sets of IP by way of the club logos and NFL shield (via the league licence), as well as the full set of player names and numbers (via the NFLPA licence).

In addition, Electronic Arts – which produces and distributes the Madden franchise – utilises a huge proportion of player IP to engineer the game from the name, number and likeness, to player data stats that inform the strengths and capabilities for each individual player. Each of these players are also depicted in the kit for the team to whom they belong, thus utilising the NFL IP set as well.

On such a strong base, Sophie recognises the opportunity for NFL players outside of America. “The growth of popularity in the NFL over the past five years has been phenomenal with the real country-specific hotspots being the UK and Germany.”

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Players have become household names in their own right, with many seizing the opportunity to build their own personal brands in this territory outside of the London Games platform in a 365-day, year-round capacity.

“The London Games are a fantastic buzz point in the UK calendar which allows thousands of European fans to engage with the sport personally each year,” continues Sophie. Since 2007, over 1,500 NFL athletes have played in this territory with many having played more than once, so educating the local fanbase and building presence and awareness for the players.

Sophie thinks that with so much growth in fan engagement, interest and excitement around the NFL, the players are the next step for many new fans getting involved with the sport. “The players are socially and digitally savvy, with huge personal followings on their multiple social media platforms allowing them to connect personally with their audience, so creating a unique connection between fan and athlete.”

In addition to Nike and EA, there are a number of core partners for NFLPA including Fanatics, the master apparel and hardlines licensee and official NFL Store Europe provider. Completing the team sheet are Outerstuff (children’s apparel and on-field partner), Panini (trading card), Sprayground (backpack), Funko (vinyl collectables), Forever Collectibles (hardlines and novelty apparel) and its direct to consumer website, www.foco.com, providing player product available for the true fan.

New for this year, Winning Moves has been signed as a licensee and will be launching a player card game in autumn/winter 2019, while a new lifestyle apparel licensee is expected to be signed imminently with products launching in the GAS region as soon spring/summer 2019.

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Sophie is quick to point out that part of the success of the PA is the willingness of players to take part in an array of activations across the various markets.

“Player activations in the UK generally derive from two different routes: player driven, and licensee-partner activation,” she says. For example, in October last year, Marshawn Lynch showcased his fashion brand Beastmode in a pop-up shop in Selfridges. In addition, the hottest Rookie in the league right now, Saquon Barkley, met with leading UK sports content YouTube vloggers XO, to discuss what it’s like to play in the NFL, his journey so far and how he uses Madden to improve his game on field.

Reiterating the point, Sophie emphasises the opportunity for the UK market: “We select our licensing partners very carefully. Longevity and a willingness to try something new is key and a base understanding of the sport is an added bonus, although of course, we are more than happy to help educate you along the way.”

In this respect, Sophie sees gaps in a number of product categories. “There is a big opportunity in the headwear space for one and we’re always looking for new collaboration partners with global potential,” she explains. Toy partners for plush and plastics will be key, as will be a flag football licensee to own the business both on the equipment and apparel side globally.

Lastly, and tapping into the growth of the brand experience category, the NFLPA is actively prospecting camp providers which would leverage real life NFL player experiences and knowledge into their curriculums.

This feature originally appeared in the spring 2019 edition of Licensing Source Book. To read the full publication, click on this link.

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