12 Part Blog Description

Are you looking to learn as much as you can about the business of sports licensing? Then please read the 12 Part "An Insider's Guide to the World of Licensed Sports Products in 12 Parts: Practical Lessons from the Trenches" - all 12 parts of the blog can be found within this site. Click here to start with the Introduction.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Part 7 - An Insider’s Guide to the World of Licensed Sports Products: Players’ Associations and Current vs. Retired Players

Please note: This 12 part series initially appeared on my "Heritage Uniforms and Jerseys" blog, but I moved it in March 2012 to this blog which has a more single-focus on the world of licensed sports products. Thanks! Scott Sillcox

Greetings!

This is Part 7 of a 12 Part Series of blogs Scott Sillcox wrote called “An Insider’s Guide to the World of Licensed Sports Products in 12 Parts: Practical Lessons from the Trenches”. For a backgrounder on Scott Sillcox and his company, Maple Leaf Productions, please see the introductory blog and/or watch his 11 minute introductory video. Scott is available to consult with anyone interested in pursuing a sports license.
The 12 Parts of this Licensed Sports Products blog are:
Part 1: How Licensing Works - Follow The Money or How $5,000,000,000 can be less than you think
Part 2: What’s Involved in Getting a License – You need them far more than they need you
Part 3: The Landscape and some of the players
Part 4: Quality Control – Where The Real Power in Licensed Sports Lies
Part 5: Royalty Reporting and Audits
Part 6: Selling Licensed Goods - Why it’s not as easy as it looks
Part 7: Players Associations and Current vs. Retired Players
Part 8: Royalty Rates – Is 12% the norm and when 12% isn’t enough
Part 9: Local Licenses – myth or reality?
Part 10: Packaging
Part 11: Ten Things (Actually 12 Things) I Learned Along The Way
Part 12: Ten More Things (Actually 14 Things) I Learned Along The Way

Let me state at outset that dealing with Players’ Associations – PA’s - is an area where I have the least experience, so this blog may be a little thinner in detail than other blogs.

***Please also note that at the time of writing this blog (mid July 2011), the NFL and NBA were in labor disputes and had locked out their players. As a result information from the respective players’ associations and their websites were far less than is generally available. This blog has been written as if the lockouts are a thing of the past and new Collective Bargaining Agreements (CBA’s) are in place.

Two general statements with respect to producing licensed products that use current or retired players:

1. If your product idea is one that requires the names, uniform numbers, images or likenesses of 3 or more current players, a player’s association needs to become involved in addition to the league. Welcome to a licensed sports products world where your life got just more complicated and more costly than if you didn’t need to use the players.

2. If your product idea is one that requires the names, uniform numbers, images or likenesses of one or more retired players, your life got even more complicated. This is because none of the leagues (NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL) has an all-encompassing alumni association which represents all retired players from that league. You are thus faced with the daunting task of determining who represents their licensing rights, and in many cases this leads to having to spend large amounts of time and money trying to track down retired players (or their families if they are deceased) and negotiating separate deals with each.

Simply put, the primary lesson of this blog is that your life would be a whole lot easier and less expensive if your product idea did not involve current or retired players.

Easy for me to say and I realize lots of ideas require the use of players’ names, numbers, likeness or images so let’s roll up our sleeves and delve a little deeper.

Things vary from league to league but here is a general overview on each of the four major North American sports leagues as it relates to licensing the name, uniform number, image or likeness of current or retired players:


1. NFL
A. Current Players:

- If your product idea requires current players’ names, uniform numbers, images or likenesses, you are going to need a joint NFL – NFLPA license.

- The NFLPA www.nflpa.com www.nflplayers.com represents all current players.

- The NFLPA isn’t going to require that you produce products for all 1800-ish current NFL players, but they may make some demands as to who you can use and how many players you must use (emphasis on the word “must”).

- If an NFL license requires a royalty payment of 12% (see Part 8 for more on royalty amounts), a joint NFL - NFLPA license will carry a royalty payment in the order of 18%.

- I advise you to contact the NFLPA and speak to their licensing team with any/all questions you may have. The NFLPA licensing team will be better able than the NFL Properties team to answer licensing questions about working with current NFL players.

- Creating a product involving current players means that when it comes to Quality Control (see Part 4 of this Blog for more on QC / Quality Control), you will have two levels of Quality Control – the NFL’s and the NFLPA’s. This is do-able of course, but the reality of a joint NFL - NFLPA license vis a vis QC is that it increases the complexity and time required to bring a product to market.

B. Retired Players:
- If your product idea requires retired players’ names, uniform numbers, images or likenesses, you are going to have to roll up your sleeves and do a lot of legwork.

- In addition to the 1800-ish current players, the NFLPA www.nflpa.com www.nflplayers.com also claims to represent 3000 retired players under the auspices of what used to be called Players Inc. and is now called NFL Players. Here’s what their website says:

Formed in 1994, NFL Players is the for-profit licensing and marketing subsidiary of the NFL Players Association (NFLPA). Representing more than 1,800 active and 3,000 retired NFL players, NFL Players "takes the helmets off" the players and markets them as personalities as well as professional athletes. NFL Players activities include retail licensing, corporate sponsorships, special events, radio and television projects, publishing and other promotional programs. NFL Players schedules more than 3,500 NFL player appearances each year. For more information, please visit www.nflplayers.com .

You are best to discuss the following with the NFLPA if at all possible, but of the thousands and thousands of retired NFL players, it seems that a somewhat small number – perhaps 150 – were actually paid by the NFLPA over the last number of years. This may represent the true demand for retired players from a licensing point of view, but if the figure of 150 players that has been circulated is true, it seems improbably low to me. The best I can advise is for you to speak to the NFLPA for more information.

- If the player(s) you wish to work with are not represented by the NFLPA, then you are likely going to have to contact each retired player (or their family if they are deceased) directly.


- You cannot go to an “association of retired NFL players” and negotiate the rights to all retired players because no one group represents all retired players. That being said, in addition to the NFLPA and their claim to represent 3000 retired players, there is a hard working association known as the “NFL Alumni Association” which is headquartered in Newark NJ. They can be reached at 973-718-7350 and you can certainly ask them directly who they represent and what advice they have for you vis a vis negotiating the rights to work with specific retired NFL players.

- For a great deal more information and insight about retired players and the highly complex area of licensing rights/issues/ideas, I would suggest you contact the very bright and well written former NFL player Jeff Nixon. Mr. Nixon played in the NFL for six years, is very active in a number of issues of interest to retired players, maintains an email list of 4000+ NFL alumni and writes a terrific blog on the subject.



2. MLB
A. Current Players:

- If your product idea requires current players’ names, uniform numbers, images or likenesses, you are going to need a joint MLB – MLBPA license.

- The MLBPA, aka MLB Players, represents all 1000-ish current MLB players.

- Please visit the MLB Players licensing page for a good description about what the MLBPA does from a licensing point of view.

- The MLBPA isn’t going to require that you produce products for all current MLB players, but they have been known to make demands as to who you can use and how many players you must use (emphasis on the word “must” – be prepared for a demand that you produce a minimum of 30 or 40 player products).

- If an MLB license requires a royalty payment of 12% (see Part 8 for more on royalty amounts), a joint MLB - MLBPA license will carry a royalty payment in the order of 18%.

- I advise you to contact the MLBPA and speak to their licensing team 212-826-0809 with any/all questions you may have. The MLBPA licensing team will be better able than the MLB Properties team to answer licensing questions about working with current MLB players.

- Creating a product involving current players means that when it comes to Quality Control (see Part 4 of this Blog for more on QC / Quality Control), you will have two levels of Quality Control – MLB’s and the MLBPA’s. This is do-able of course, but the reality of a joint MLB - MLBPA license vis a vis QC is that it increases the complexity and time required to bring a product to market.


B. Retired Players:
- If your product idea requires retired players’ names, uniform numbers, images or likenesses, you are going to have to roll up your sleeves and do a lot of legwork.

- Unlike the NFL Players Association which claims to represent a reasonably large number of retired players from a licensing point of view, the MLBPA does not represent retired players for licensing purposes.


- There is a retired players’ association known as the “Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association” MLBPAA. The MLBPAA is headquartered in Colorado and represents 5800 former and current major league players, umpires, managers, coaches and fans (please don’t think of the 5800 as being all former players) and operates a for-profit group based in St. Petersburg FL called Major League Alumni Marketing (MLAM) and the Legends Memorabilia Collection (LMC) designed to generate compensation for former players.

- What they don’t say is exactly how many players, and which players, they represent. I understand why, and I hope you do as well, so the best way to get your retired player licensing questions answered would be to speak to MLAM directly at 719-475-1847 Matt Hazzard matt@mlbpaa.com or call their office in Florida 727-898-8900. My big picture point would be for you to understand that as good as MLBPAA and MLAM may be, they do not represent all retired MLB players.

- If some/all of the player(s) you wish to work with are not represented by the MLBPAA, then you are likely going to have to contact each retired player (or their family if they are deceased) directly.



3. NBA
A. Current Players:

- Unlike the other leading North America leagues (NFL, MLB, NHL), in the case of the NBA, if your product idea requires current players’ names, uniform numbers, images or likenesses, you only need an NBA license. This is unique and is very forward thinking on the part of the NBA and the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA).

- The NBPA represents all 450-ish current NBA players.

- Please visit the NBA and the NBA Players Association for a description about what the NBA and NBPA do from a licensing point of view.

- I simply do not know where the NBA/NBPA stand as far as how many players you “must” use in a product line.

- As mentioned above, unlike the other major leagues, an NBA license is a joint license, so your royalty payment of 12% (see Part 8 for more on royalty amounts) also covers the NBPA share as well. Very unique and very licensee friendly.

- I advise you to contact the NBA 212-407-8000 and speak to their licensing team with any/all current player licensing questions you may have.

- I simply do not know if the fact that an NBA license automatically gives you the current players’ rights as well means that when it comes to Quality Control (see Part 4 of this Blog for more on QC / Quality Control), you will have one level of Quality Control or two as is the case with the other leagues.

– With respect to working with the NBA and the NBPA, I welcome feedback from anyone who has “been there, done that” and has some experience to share with us.

B. Retired Players:
- If your product idea requires retired players’ names, uniform numbers, images or likenesses, the place to start would be with the New York based National Basketball Retired Players Association (NBRPA) Ph: 212-251-0368. The NBRPA, which is also known as the Legends Of Basketball, is a non-profit organization founded in 1992 by some of the game’s greats and has a membership of approximately 1000 NBA, ABA and Harlem Globetrotters alumni. The NBRPA is a subsidiary of the NBA and has as part of its mission to create opportunities such as special appearances and basketball tours. The NBRPA claims to be on good working terms with the NBPA.


- From their website it seems to me that the NBRPA is not overly active in licensing retired players although their website says that the NBRPA wholly owns a for-profit marketing company (unnamed on their website) that works with and in conjunction with the nonprofit company of the NBRPA. I would say it’s best for you to contact the NBRPA directly and ask your licensing questions as to what extent do they represent retired players for licensing purposes.

- My guess is that you will learn that the NBRPA does not represent all retired NBA players from a licensing standpoint. If I am correct in this assumption, then you are likely going to have to contact each retired player (or their family if they are deceased) directly.



4. NHL
A. Current Players:

- If your product idea requires current players’ names, uniform numbers, images or likenesses, you are going to need a joint NHL – NHLPA license.

- The National Hockey League Players Association NHLPA represents all 750-ish current NHL players.

- Please visit this page in the NHLPA's website for a detailed description of each of the 35-ish joint NHL – NHLPA licensees.

- The NHLPA isn’t going to require that you produce products for all current NHL players, and unlike the MLBPA they are not known for making demands as to who you can use and how many players you must use.

- If an NHL license requires a royalty payment of 11% (see Part 8 for more on royalty amounts), a joint NHL - NHLPA license will carry a royalty payment in the order of 17%.

- I advise you to contact the NHLPA Mike Ouellet, Chief of Business Affairs, NHL Players' Association Ph:(416) 313-2300 mouellet@nhlpa.com and speak to their licensing team with any/all questions you may have. The NHLPA licensing team will be better able than the NHL Enterprises team to answer licensing questions about working with current NHL players.

- Creating a product involving current players means that when it comes to Quality Control (see Part 4 of this Blog for more on QC / Quality Control), you will have two levels of Quality Control – NHL’s and the NHLPA’s. This is do-able of course, but the reality of a joint NHL - NHLPA license vis a vis QC is that it increases the complexity and time required to bring a product to market.

B. Retired Players:
- If your product idea requires retired players’ names, uniform numbers, images or likenesses, you are going to have to roll up your sleeves and do a lot of legwork.

- Unlike the NFL Players Association which claims to represent a reasonably large number of retired players from a licensing point of view, the NHLPA does not represent retired players for licensing purposes.


- There is a retired players’ association known as the NHL Alumni Association - NHLA. The NHLA is headquartered in Toronto and represents 1300-ish former NHL players (out of approximately 3500 living former players). It is interesting to note that this group was formed in 1999 as a result of the amalgamation of two alumni groups – one formed by the NHL and one by the NHLPA.

- From a marketing perspective, the NHLA seems to concentrate more on booking appearances by former players (speaking engagements, autograph signings, golf tournament participation, meet and greets, NHL Alumni hockey games) than actual licensing opportunities, which I suspect reflects the fact that the bigger names among NHL alumni are reluctant to cast their lot in with the alumni association opting instead to negotiate licensing opportunities directly themselves (ie they don’t have to share the pie if they negotiate directly).

- My big picture point would be for you to understand that as good as the NHLA may be, they do not represent all retired NHL players.

- If some/all of the player(s) you wish to work with are not represented by the NHLA, then you are likely going to have to contact each retired player (or their family if they are deceased) directly. To this end the NHLA claims to maintain a database of 3400 of the approximately 3500 living NHL alumni, and they may be able to open doors for you.



Before we end this blog, I have two stories to pass on about dealing with Players’ Associations (PA’s) – one long and one short – and both deal with the NHLPA.

The first story concerns the use of uniform numbers. I tell this story for two reasons:
1. To illustrate the landscape/tension that can exist between the league and the PA when it comes to licensing
and
2. To explain that the PA’s consider even the uniform numbers as “belonging” to the players and the use of only the uniform number in a licensed product (ie no player name, likeness or image) nonetheless requires a joint league-PA license.

Here goes with story #1…




In 1997, when I was in the process of applying to the NHL for a license to produce posters that celebrated the history and evolution of team uniforms, I sat down with the NHL licensing people on two separate occasions and asked point blank: "Can I use real uniform numbers?" And on both occasions the NHL said, and confirmed in writing, that "Yes you can use the actual uniform numbers. We control the uniform numbers." So armed with that go-ahead, we created uniform images for the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens using actual numbers that were worn by players in those seasons – in some cases we showed the Captain’s “C” or Alternate Captain’s “A” - and later that year we published our first two posters – the Montreal Canadiens and the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Basically the day that we began shipping the posters to stores, I got a call from a friend of mine at the NHL Players’ Association, and he said, "So Scott, tell me, how much are you paying (then current player) Doug Gilmour for the use of his jersey?" And I said, "The NHL tells me I don't have to pay Doug anything because the NHL controls the use of uniform numbers." And he said, "Well, that’s nice. But we disagree." And he went on to suggest that I pull the posters off the market and re-do them without real numbers - or else apply for a joint NHL – NHLPA license and pay the NHLPA a royalty and also cut a deal with all retired players whose numbers are featured in the posters. So I went back to the NHL, reported what the PA told me, and the NHL said "Tell the PA to jump in the lake." So I went back to the PA and relayed the message in somewhat less graphic terms, and the PA said, "That's fine - we'll see you and the NHL in court and we’ll figure this out." So then I went back to the NHL and they said, "Scott, change your posters."

And thus it was that we had to destroy thousands of posters (if you have one of the originals, you have a great collectible with a bit of history!) and start again.

How can you tell if you have an original? On the Toronto poster, look at the 1992-93 jersey and see if it shows Doug Gilmour’s #93 and an Alternate Captain’s “A” – if it does, you have an original! On the Montreal poster, look at the 1965-66 jersey and see if it shows #4 and the Captain’s “C” – if it does, you have an original!

Here is the actual original art that we had to change - in this case the jersey of a retired player, Jean Beliveau. You can see the originally painted uniform #4 and the Captain’s “C”, and you can see below a uniform #23 which we used to electronically adjust the image for the re-printed posters.

From that point on, for all NFL, NHL and MLB uniforms we created we used uniform numbers that either were not worn by anyone during that season, or else were worn by more than one player so it's impossible to associate the number with a specific player. But for the NCAA, we did use real player numbers because college athletes, as amateurs, aren't eligible for compensation.


My second story is much shorter, but is telling nonetheless and might help you to understand PA’s if/when you have to negotiate with them.

I met with the NHLPA recently to discuss a project and I asked about the NHLPA’s interest in representing retired players. It was made clear to me that the day a player retires, the PA ceases to represent him from a licensing perspective. It’s a clean break. The PA (at least in the case of the NHL and I suspect it’s much the same for the other PA’s although they might not say so quite as readily) is all about the current players and not at all about the retired players. Does this thinking extend beyond licensed products? I’ll let you reach your own conclusions.


That’s all for Part #7 of “An Insider’s Guide to the World of Licensed Sports Products: Players’ Associations and Current vs. Retired Players”.

Thanks for reading and all comments are welcome!

Scott


PS: This is just a quick FYI that in the spring of 2017 Scott Sillcox will be continuing the multi-city tour of North America that he started in the spring of 2013. While in each city, I will be meeting face-to-face with people who want to learn more about sports product licensing.

If you are considering going through the process of acquiring a sports license(s), or if you are considering working with an existing licensee, you should strongly consider meeting with me live and in person. If you have been dreaming about your product and the opportunity it represents for months, maybe years – now’s the time to move your idea forward! Take advantage of me coming to a city near you.

1. You can meet with me for a full day session – from 8:30am – 5:00pm - just you and me (or you and your team if you wish). The full day one-on-one session fee is $1500.

2. You can meet with me for a half day session (4.5 hours) – either in the morning or the afternoon. This half-day session is also one-on-one - just you (or your team) and me. The half day session fee is $900.

3. New for 2017: You can meet with me for two hours - the timing depends on my other meetings. The two-hour session fee is $600.

The cities and dates for the Spring 2017 tour are:
1. Feb 21 - 23 (Tues - Thurs): Boston
2. Feb 28 – Mar 2 (Tues - Thurs): Atlanta
3. Mar 7 - 9 (Tues - Thurs): Washington DC
4. Mar 21 - 23 (Tues - Thurs): Chicago
5. Mar 28 - 30 (Tues - Thurs): Princeton NJ & NYC area
6. Apr 4 - 6 (Tues - Thurs): Cleveland & Columbus, OH
7. Apr 11 - 13 (Tues - Thurs): Dallas
8. Apr 18 - 20 (Tues - Thurs): Ft. Lauderdale FL
9. Apr 25 - 27 (Tues - Thurs): Las Vegas
10. May 1 - 3 (Mon - Wed): Los Angeles
11. May 4 – 5 (Thurs – Fri): Seattle

I can send you a suggested meeting agenda - just ask - but because our one-on-one time together will be totally focused on your needs and your story, no two sessions are ever the same so the agenda is highly flexible.

If your city is not listed above and you would like me to come to you, I’m happy to go almost anywhere in the continental US or Canada as long as you book a full day session and pay a one-time all-inclusive travel fee of $500. Thus for a flat fee of $2000 I will come right to your door and spend a full day with you.

To register, simply call me, Scott Sillcox, at 416-315-4736 or email me at ssillcox@rogers.com and book your face-to-face time - you can lock-in a confirmed session right over the phone.

4 comments:

  1. Scott,

    What if everything was all good with your commemorative posters as far as the league & player licensing but instead of just jerseys you decided to do full uniforms with equipment. Do you also need permission from the equipment mfg's (Bauer, CCM, Reebok, etc) to use their names & logos on your artwork?

    ReplyDelete
  2. HI Anonymous -

    Many thanks for reading my blog and posting this question. Short answer is, Yes, you would be very wise to get their permission. Ideally I would approach as senior a person as I could, ie CEO/President, and appeal to them on an "authenticity" level. I would explain what my project is/will be and explain that it wouldn't be a big money maker. I would be seeking a blanket letter of approval for you to use their logo/name in your family of artwork - much of which is yet to be produced. Getting permission for future use, not just artwork that has already been produced, would be important - you don't want to have a situation where you have to get their permission for each piece of art you produce. But I would not go so far as agreeing to pay them anything for the use of their logo/name - if they wanted some form of payment, I would respectfully decline and simply omit their name/logo.

    Best of luck -
    Scott

    ReplyDelete
  3. Hi Scott. This is a tremendous resource for me - thanks for your work. Now, let's say you did a painting on canvas of the 1985 Chicago Bears defense on the field. If you want to sell it, in addition to NFL licensing you would also have to track down all 11 players (since each is retired and assuming they aren't still represented by the NFLPA) and reach an agreement with each one. Do I have that right?

    ReplyDelete
  4. Hi Anonymous -

    Many thanks for the nice note and kind words.

    The short answer is if you are simply selling the original art, no licensing required. US First Amendment rights etc.

    If you are wanting to sell a limited number of reproductions, or an open number of reproductions (ie a poster), zap me an email and I will give you more information - ssillcox@rogers.com

    Thanks!
    Scott

    ReplyDelete

Thank you for taking the time to add a comment - all input is welcome, especially the constructive kind! All the best - Scott