League, players cooperate in marketing

Business as usual in the NFL.

Not among the owners, coaches, and players. Not between

Commissioner Roger Goodell and the players’ association. Nor

between general managers and player agents.

In marketing the game, however, the lockout has not resulted in

a dead stop.

For consumer products such as video games or trading cards, or

in licensing of merchandise, not much is different even with a work

stoppage.

Player merchandise, including jerseys and other items, will

still be available to fans thanks to long-standing agreements

between the league, the NFLPA and their licensees. It’s something

Gary Gertzog, NFL senior vice president of business affairs, says

”we are very comfortable with.”

”We want NFL football to be depicted in an authentic way,”

Gertzog said. ”Those companies have secured rights from the

marketing affiliate of the players’ association and from the

league. The production is proceeding and those products will be

delivered in preparation for the 2011 season.”

Even though the season is endangered by the work stoppage.

Companies involved in licensing or consumer products previously

acquired rights from the NFL for its logo and trademarks and for

those of the 32 clubs. Another set of rights was obtained from the

NFLPA for the players’ identities. Those agreements remain in place

for the 2011 season.

For sponsorships, though, the accord between the league and

Players Inc, the marketing arm of the former union, expired when

the collective bargaining agreement did on March 11.

It’s up to those sponsors if they want to proceed by going after

player rights through a third party, and the NFL is telling

sponsors to make sure they have the appropriate rights before

proceeding.

Indeed, the league has questioned the NFLPA’s rights to seek

group deals because it has decertified as a union.

Players Inc doesn’t agree, naturally, and has been aggressive in

pursuing those sponsorships.

”During the lockout, we are essentially the engine that drives

the NFLPA (financially),” said Keith Gordon, president of NFL

Players. ”We are seeking whatever we can create to be supporting

the players during the lockout. Marketing activity, including

sponsorship, licensing, and event production, supports the players

when they are not getting any other (income) in this situation.

”For us to not have the ability to sell sponsorships, we would

be crippling ourselves. So we are actively pursuing every

opportunity while they are available, which is simply smart

business.”

Gordon would not identify specific companies with whom the

players are talking, but cited the categories of personal care,

automotive, technology, financial services, beer, and

transportation/logistics.

”Our players also continue working with select NFL sponsors who

have contingency agreements in place,” Gordon said. ”Outside of

those sponsors, individual player deals may continue to occur

provided the sponsor is not in violation of our exclusive group

player licensing rights.

”While football may not be played on Sundays during the

lockout, the game continues to live through our players. The desire

of fans to connect with NFL players has not diminished one bit, and

in fact may actually increase if no games are played.

”Any players who make the commitment to be visible and engage

with fans, with partners and with media will have an opportunity to

increase their visibility, showcase their personality and impact

their overall marketability.”

And what about the teams and the league itself? NFL merchandise

tends to fly off the shelves throughout the year, but especially

heading into the season. The shadow of the lockout could impact

those sales just as it affects whether games will be missed.

”We have had discussions with nearly all our business partners

and they all exercise their agreements in different ways and times

of the year and with different executions,” Gertzog said. ”We

have a terrific roster we do business with who are very committed

to marketing with the NFL. As we do, they have confidence our labor

situation will be worked out.”

Gertzog points out that Anheuser-Busch, a first-year league

sponsor, will unveil its marketing initiatives at the draft in late

April. His department already has begun discussions for kickoff

weekend in Green Bay in September. There have been conversations

with the various broadcast partners ”based on the current

circumstances and selling advertising and expectations of a

season.”

”In terms of our marketing calendar, training camp is an

important vehicle for all the clubs and the NFL,” Gertzog added.

”The clubs have found it a very important avenue to bring new

fans, to get up them up close to the players, and they’ve created

interactive elements that are very appealing. Training camp

experiences have become a very strong and important marketing

effort for the teams.”

Training camps are due to open at the end of July, making them

even more endangered than the games – despite both sides’ marketing

plans being in full swing. The players and the league emphasize

they both are year-round sports properties with whom marketing

partners want to do business.

But there’s also never been a lockout to affect the business of

pro football.