SBD/March 31, 2011/Marketing and Sponsorship

NFL Lockout Watch, Day 20: Work Stoppage Not Affecting Marketing

The NFL lockout "has not resulted in a dead stop" for marketing, according to Barry Wilner of the AP. For consumer products “such as video games or trading cards, or in licensing of merchandise, not much is different even with a work stoppage.” Player merchandise, including “jerseys and other items, will still be available to fans thanks to long-standing agreements between the league, the NFLPA and their licensees.” Companies "involved in licensing or consumer products previously acquired rights from the NFL for its logo and trademarks and for those of the 32 clubs." Another set of rights "was obtained from the NFLPA for the players' identities." Those agreements "remain in place for the 2011 season." But sponsorships that require “the accord between the league and Players Inc, the marketing arm of the former union, expired when the collective bargaining agreement did on March 11.” It is “up to those sponsors if they want to proceed by going after player rights through a third party.” Wilner notes the NFL is “telling sponsors to make sure they have the appropriate rights before proceeding.” The league “has questioned the NFLPA's rights to seek group deals because it has decertified as a union.” NFL Senior VP/Business Affairs & General Counsel Gary Gertzog said that Anheuser-Busch, a first-year league sponsor, will “unveil its marketing initiatives at the draft in late April.” Gertzog's department “already has begun discussions for kickoff weekend in Green Bay in September.” He added there have been conversations with broadcast partners "based on the current circumstances and selling advertising and expectations of a season." Wilner noted NFL merchandise “tends to fly off the shelves throughout the year, but especially heading into the season.” But the “shadow of the lockout could impact those sales just as it affects whether games will be missed” (AP, 3/31).

CHANGE OF TUNE: SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL’s Liz Mullen notes officials with NFL Players last week said that the NFL “has backed off its comments questioning the unit’s ability to use group player rights to make marketing, advertising and licensing deals.” An attorney for NFL Players “wrote a strongly worded letter to” Gertzog, “threatening legal action against the league if the league continued to question publicly in the press and privately to sponsors the players subsidiary’s ability to use group player rights in marketing.” An NFL spokesperson said the league has been “encouraging NFL sponsors to acquire whatever separate player rights they need to activate their marketing programs” (SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL, 3/28 issue).
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