SBJ/Jan. 24-30, 2011/Marketing and Sponsorship

NFL Alumni hires 16W to create licensing program

NFL Alumni has hired marketing firm 16W to sell sponsorships and create a licensing program for the group’s thousands of retired NFL players.

The NFL Players Association also offers marketing services to retired players, but Frank Vuono, a partner at 16W, disagreed with any suggestion of a conflict. The group licensing agreements that retired players might sign with the NFLPA as well as future ones with 16W would both be non-exclusive.
“I am friendly with the NFLPA,” Vuono said.

Vuono already has one deal under his belt for NFL Alumni. Allstate is sponsoring the group’s awards ceremony during Super Bowl week in Dallas.

NFL Alumni was created in 2009 through a merger of NFL Alumni Inc., a charity that long received league funding, and retired players group Fourth and Goal. The group has since been viewed as a competitor to the NFLPA in laying claim to representing retired players.

NFL Alumni has the benefit of having the rights through the NFL to use team marks and logos in tandem with retired players.

George Martin, NFL Alumni’s executive director, said of the NFLPA’s commercial ties with retired players, “If there is an existing relationship, it is ineffectual at best.”

The NFLPA did not respond for comment.

In 2008, a class of retired players successfully sued the union for failing to properly market them. The union appealed, and while the case was on appeal in 2009, Executive Director DeMaurice Smith settled the case for $26.25 million.

Smith, who was hired in 2009, has expressed a desire for the union to act as the voice for retired players as well as active players.

A vibrant marketplace exists for retired NFL players, Martin said, even though at trial in 2008, the NFLPA’s former head of its marketing unit, Doug Allen, contended he could not find companies eager to use the players.

This is not Vuono’s first go around in this area. Working previously as an executive at NFL Properties, he led what was called the Quarterback Club in the 1990s, a venture that competed with the union for the rights to market players, both retired and active. By the end of the decade, the NFL agreed to cede that territory to the union.

As for licensing retired players, Vuono must first convince NFL Alumni’s membership to sign agreements with 16W to allow the agency to represent them. The agency already has several retired players as broadcaster clients, including Howie Long and Phil Simms.

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