NFLPA

Nflpi

As the licensing arm of the NFL Players Association (NFLPA), NFL Players Inc. certainly has a lot of star power to work with. After all, it can take advantage of the athletic prowess and celebrity status of NFL players, as well as the massive popularity of the sport. But according to Steve Scebelo, vice president of licensing and business development, the NFLPA doesn’t have to go it alone.

“We have a lot of conversations around looking to innovate and create new products and programs for players,” he says. 

“The market has been receptive. A healthy number of innovative, prospective licensees are coming to us with new ideas, while we are continually seeking new product extensions.”

The Right Fit

Collaboration and co-branding have become a major part of the NFLPA’s approach to licensing. During its initial efforts to execute such licensing partnerships, it has discovered opportunities to bring player identities beyond the field. 

“Our players have made a strong entry into the pop culture world and have built strong identities off field,” Scebelo says. “We want to continue on that path. Last year, we struck up a relationship with Imangi’s globally popular mobile game Temple Run 2, taking players off the field and putting them into another environment that could tap into their skillsets. We are looking to build more of these types of relationships, so we can continue to creatively extend the players’ personalities and brands into new environments.”

The key to establishing more collaborative and co-branded licensing partnerships has been keeping an open mind. The NFLPA is willing to listen to ideas and explore ways to find the best extensions of players’ brands. The partnerships have an ability to tap into fans of the players and fans of the co-branded licensor’s products.

“That way, the audiences overlap and help each other by engaging existing fans and introducing yourself to new fans,” Scebelo says. 

Ongoing Efforts

Scebelo touched on a number of collaborative and co-brand partnerships that have him very excited about the future. The NFLPA has worked to bring together two of its licensees, Trophy Brands and Athlitacomics, on the development of a unique line of QB Gummies. 

“Athlitacomics was founded by former NFL player Israel Idonije, who created great comic book style player images,” Scebelo says. “We connected Athlitacomics with Trophy Brands, a new licensee that was interested in bringing players into the gummy candy space, and fell in love with Athlita’s art. Retailers have now fallen in love with the product, as we have upscale candy, grocery and convenience stores on board with products shipping between late summer and the Super Bowl. There has been an enthusiastic response to the product at the retail level, and we’ve talked about extending the product line into additional snacks.”

Another collaboration has come through a co-brand relationship with Big Tent Entertainment, which is the licensing agency for pop culture character Domo. Licensee Kelly Toys created a unique line of NFL players-branded Domo plush toys that will debut this fall in Walmart’s vending distribution channel.

Beyond that is a co-branding program with New York City’s fire department (FDNY), which has its logo licensing managed by NYC & Company, New York City’s destination marketing organization. FDNY is celebrating its 150th anniversary, and the NFLPA worked with NYC & Company on a co-brand t-shirt program featuring FDNY marks along with New York Giants and New York Jets players. 

“We are working on a collaborative promotional launch that will bring NFL players together with FDNY,” Scebelo says. “Players love to support first responders, and the product designs are outstanding.” 

Perhaps its most significant co-brand effort is the NFLPA’s work to tap into the popularity of players combined with their collegiate marks. The NFLPA has retained The Brandr Group to represent licensing opportunities for NFL players in the collegiate space.

“The Brandr Group is led by industry veterans who have connections with colleges and agencies in that space and can negotiate college rights and work with existing licensees to develop new opportunities for players,” Scebelo says.

One of the licensees the NFLPA is working with in the college market is Oyo Sports and its licensed collectible minifigures. Oyo Sports currently has more than 160 NFL players available in their collegiate uniforms. 

Another licensee is Fanatics, an online retailer of licensed sports apparel and merchandise. Fanatics now has nearly 100 NFL players available in their collegiate jerseys, and it is looking to add more. 

“Many people are fans of our players from their college days and we believe the market wants us to generate more product in that area,” Scebelo says. “Our players were the stars of their campuses and will always be celebrated there, which is why that is an area that we can see becoming an extensive program.”

Looking Forward

The NFLPA has it core relationships in place, which allows it to test the limits of the licensing world. Having that strong foundation is critical because it allows the organization to explore how far it can take its brand by being strategic and extending from that core foundation. 

As the next football season draws closer, Scebelo is excited to see what the new rookies will do as they perform and create new marketing opportunities for themselves off the field. As players have breakout performances on the field, the NFLPA is seeing more interest for on-demand products that can instantly tap into players as they emerge. 

In all areas, the NFLPA will continue to be a big believer in finding the right partnerships and recognizing that it doesn’t always have all the answers. By working with the right partners and leveraging the strengths of its players, the NFLPA will continue to be a standout player in the licensing sector.

“We definitely haven’t thought of everything, which is why we must always challenge ourselves to be creative and listen to creative ideas to take player programs in ever-evolving, new directions,” Scebelo says. 

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