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Volume 23 No. 24
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LA28, USOPC considering group athlete licensing

Los Angeles 2028 and the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee are considering group licensing for Olympic athletes for the first time.

If implemented, the concept could provide a new revenue stream for athletes, particularly those who don’t receive personal endorsement deals, and help brands justify the cost of exclusive sponsorship of Team USA and the ’28 Games.

Officials caution that the idea is in its early stages, and can’t yet answer questions about the mechanics or economics. But they’re working on it.

“We do see an opportunity to create a stronger connection between the corporate community and Team USA, and we’re intending to see if we can open up ways for more dollars to potentially flow to the athletes from our corporate partners,” said Kathy Carter, chief revenue officer of Los Angeles 2028 and head of the commercial LA28/USOPC joint venture.

Conceptually, group licensing would mimic deals that cover players in the major pro leagues.

But the Olympics create challenges not seen in professional league sports: Namely, who can be in the group? Most athletes only officially qualify for the Olympic team a few weeks out. Also, how long after the Olympics would an athlete be entitled to be part of the group? Would retirees or prominent national team athletes who didn’t qualify for a given Games be eligible? Carter said all of that is still being determined.

Athlete advocates say group licensing could partially counterbalance the trend of endorsement income flowing to an ever-smaller circle of well-known stars. Athletes would agree to join the group by contract and then receive a share of all sales of those rights, while not losing their ability to sign personal deals.

One example of how this could be used is in apparel. With group rights, USOPC licensee Fanatics might be able to create Team USA T-shirts customizable with each Olympian’s name. Today, those mostly anonymous athletes might not be worth individual contracts, but together could drive big sales among their families or hometown fans.

“I love to hear that people are trying to find some fundraising for athletes,” said Patrick Quinn, an Olympic agent and co-founder of Chicago Sports & Entertainment Partners. “It continues to be a challenge, and it’s particularly difficult in the summer because there are just so many athletes.”

The group rights would be sold as part of a sponsorship package with LA28, which are being sold for more than $200 million in some cases, not counting money that would be spent on NBC media time. The group rights would simplify the sometimes cumbersome process of activating Olympic rights with athletes, Carter said.