SBJ/May 9-15, 2011/Labor and Agents

NFLPA makes gains with sponsors

The NFLPA’s marketing arm, NFL Players, has signed new one-year deals with NFL sponsors Gatorade, Verizon and Dairy Manufacturers Inc. since the NFL lockout was imposed, and is in talks with several non-NFL sponsors about deals.

When the NFL collective-bargaining agreement expired, so did the separate commercial agreement between NFL Players and the NFL sponsors that gives those companies the ability to use six or more NFL players in group licensing.

“As soon as the lockout occurred, those three partners chose to extend their deals,” said Keith Gordon, president of NFL Players, who declined to reveal the value of the deals. “We call them contingency agreements. They signed an agreement with us where they extend their rights while they are in a commercial agreement with the league.”

The NFL Players agreement that expired was with the NFL and covered about a dozen sponsors, Gordon said. The NFLPA’s marketing unit had been warning sponsors for about a year that the lockout might occur and that the commercial deals covering group player rights would expire as well.

“All of the sponsors with whom we have entered into separate agreements have continued to utilize and activate players in marketing, promotional and advertising campaigns to support the sale of their products,” Gordon said. “This ranges from broad national campaigns to local-market campaigns, all featuring dozens of players promoting the sponsor’s products. This means sponsors clearly see the value of integrating players into their marketing initiatives.”

Gordon said NFL Players is close to deals with other non-NFL sponsors but would not identify the companies.

Some NFL players, with time on their hands because of the lockout, have come with NFL Players executives on sales calls to companies, Gordon said.

Meanwhile, the NFLPA signed sponsors Nike and Panini America for the NFL Rookie Debut, a series of events held around New York City the week of the NFL draft, culminating in a party featuring musical artist Snoop Dogg.

Trading card partner Panini America was pleased with its Rookie Debut sponsorship.
The NFLPA held its first Rookie Debut last year as a way to introduce newly drafted NFL rookies to NFL teammates, but did not have sponsors for the event. “This is the first year we have actually commercialized it,” Gordon said.

Jason Howarth, vice president of marketing for Panini America, said the trading card company was pleased with its sponsorship of the event, and as part of the deal was able to conduct a mini-focus group with rookie players, including Cal defensive end Cameron Jordan, who was drafted by the New Orleans Saints, and with others already in the league, including St. Louis Rams quarterback Sam Bradford.

“We had them open up packages of trading cards and we asked them what they liked to see on their trading card,” Howarth said.

Panini, which has a license agreement with the NFLPA, is looking for sponsorships that are different and resonate with players, Howarth said. “We felt the NFL Rookie Debut gave us the chance to connect with these players early on in their NFL careers,” he said.

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