SBJ/March 28-April 3, 2011/Labor and Agents

NFL comments on group player rights draw a response

Officials with NFL Players, the marketing and licensing arm of the recently decertified NFL Players Association, said last week 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 the NFL’s senior business counsel, 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.

The letter was in response to public comments made by Gary Gertzog, NFL senior vice president, to SportsBusiness Journal, as well as conversations that Gertzog was having, according to the lawyer for NFL Players, with sponsors regarding the subject.

“We were disappointed to learn that, despite your assertions to the contrary just last week, you have, in fact, been discussing group player rights with sponsors,” states the March 21 letter, written by Ahmad Nassar, NFL Players vice president, business and legal affairs, and which was obtained by SportsBusiness Journal. “No one at the NFL should be denigrating our undeniable rights — publicly or privately. Doing so exposes you to further liability and immediate legal action.”

An NFL spokesman said the league has been “encouraging NFL sponsors to acquire whatever separate player rights they need to activate their marketing programs.”

“Sponsors need to make their own decisions and satisfy themselves they are securing the rights necessary to conduct certain marketing programs,” the spokesman said.

NFL Players President Keith Gordon, in an e-mail, said that the NFL had responded to the letter to Gertzog and is no longer challenging their rights.

“In response to the letter we sent to the NFL, we received a letter from Gary Gertzog that emphatically stated the NFL has ‘not engaged in efforts to denigrate or attack the validity of your current group player rights,’” Gordon wrote.

The NFLPA had a commercial agreement with the NFL in which NFL sponsors could use the NFLPA’s group player rights in advertising, marketing and licensing deals. That commercial agreement is separate from the collective-bargaining agreement but it expired at the same time as the CBA this month.

The NFLPA decertified as a union and began operating as a trade association on March 11. Each year, the NFLPA gathers signed group licensing agreements from current and future NFL players.

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