When individual athletes pool their collective talents as a team, the whole becomes greater than its parts – core attributes are strengthened, diversity of talent is bolstered, and the opportunity to win is enhanced.
At NFL Players Inc., the marketing and licensing arm of the NFLPA, we have been representing the group licensing rights of all active NFL players for more than 25 years. The business of this “One Team” of all NFL players has grown consistently stronger, recording four consecutive years of record revenue growth and regularly delving into new business categories on behalf of the players we represent.
Last year NFL Players Inc. recognized an opportunity to replicate the successful business that has been established for football players. We set out to bolster the group licensing opportunities available to athletes in all sports by providing a unique business platform for athletes to support one another in this booming and opportunistic sports-driven economy by launching REP Worldwide – an acronym for ‘Representing Every Player’ Worldwide — a first-of-its-kind group representation and licensing management business.
REP Worldwide is built upon NFL Players Inc.’s foundation, using the resources, competencies and skill sets we have been honing these past 25 years to provide world-class athletes with opportunities to tap new revenue streams.
The goal is simple: build and manage group player licensing and marketing programs for athlete-centric sports properties, particularly for those who don’t necessarily have the resources or infrastructure to maximize their players’ rights on their own.
One of the most gratifying aspects of launching this business has been collaborating with our founding partners – the U.S. Women’s National Team Players Association (USWNTPA) and the Women’s National Basketball Players Association (WNBPA). REP Worldwide also recently welcomed the men’s and women’s members of the U.S. Rugby Players Association (USRPA) to our roster. I am proud that the NFLPA is standing alongside these incredible athletes and their unions, and now will be working to build their group licensing programs to new heights.
The timing for REP Worldwide to enter this market is ideal, with sports licensing having become a $27B industry, largely with player product being vastly under-represented for fans. The marketplace has much unrealized potential for sports properties and athlete group licensing programs that may not yet have the resources or the infrastructure to build or monetize their own programs, and two growing phenomena allow for more player product to be sold directly to fans than previously was possible: (1) direct engagement between players and fans via social media and (2) made-to-order product that may be quickly sold directly to consumers.
Why a former Nike exec would bet the swoosh on a distributed athlete-media model.
REP Worldwide is now the conduit that will allow licensees and retailers to gain access to the ultimate group of authentic influencers: sports stars. Those companies keen enough to maximize the potential of the athletes’ influence will drive product innovation and sales revenue. Plus, licensees and retailers also have unique opportunities to work directly with athletes to create more authentic and lasting player experiences and marketing campaigns. Unlike any other licensing programs in the market today, group player licensing programs allow their partners to work with living, breathing human beings who accomplish great things daily. Some of these players are eager to be directly involved in suggesting product designs requested by fans or using their social media to organically announce new product offerings. In turn this means stronger connections with fans that fuels enhanced passion for their favorite players.
The time for more group player licensing programs is ripe.
Last year the U.S. Women’s National Team Players Association fought hard to earn the right to control their group commercialization rights, a momentous victory for these soccer players that should no doubt benefit other groups in the future.
In much the same way, the pioneering WNBA players and their union created the blueprint for controlling their group licensing rights, and as their Players Association celebrates its 20th anniversary, we believe their licensing program has the potential to achieve new heights.
As I noted above, REP Worldwide serves to help guide these athlete-driven sports properties into a growing sector of the industry. Soon after launching, we formed the REP Worldwide Athlete Advisory Board, and I am proud to work alongside the following athletes to chart the future path of the business:
- Mike Adams, NFLPA
- Johnson Bademosi, NFLPA
- Zach Ertz, NFLPA
- Matt Forte, NFLPA
- Meghan Klingenberg, USWNTPA
- Nneka Ogwumike, WNBPA
- Malaika Underwood, USA Baseball Women’s National Team
The USWNTPA’s roster of stars along with its up-and-coming players and personalities points to a bright future as the team prepares for competition on the road to the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup. Similarly, the WNBPA and its athletes are continuing the incredible momentum from last year’s postseason which saw historic levels in attendance, viewership, social media engagement, and merchandise sales.
We’re excited to have already announced several new multiyear licensing deals to create player-branded products and merchandise for players’ legions of fans. Strideline, Build-A-Head, Original Retro Brand and Ruffneck Scarves are four companies already leveraging the power of the USWNTPA and WNBPA players and group licensing rights, with more to be announced soon.
REP Worldwide’s newest client, the U.S. Rugby Players Association, which represents the rights to men’s and women’s rugby players, is also exciting because much like soccer and women’s hoops, interest in the sport and its players is rising as anticipation builds for the Rugby Sevens World Cup 2018 in San Francisco, the first Rugby World Cup on American soil. REP Worldwide will structure and manage the USRPA’s licensing deals across digital, apparel and hardlines categories. We’ll also consult on marketing activation, driving support for the players and licensees at retail, as well as develop content opportunities via ACE Media, the NFLPA’s production and content arm.
REP Worldwide is opening a door that will give athletes the ability to connect with their fans and business partners on a whole new level. Player group licensing programs are on the rise, which will lead to innovative new player-driven products and marketing programs that celebrate athletes. For the licensees and retailers that see the potential, there is no time like the present to work with players.
Steve Scabelo is the Vice President of Licening and Business Development for the NFL Players Inc. You can connect with Steve here.
Learn more about working with athletes and creators at our annual innovation conference, Hashtag Sports.