Licensing NFL Players

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From a marketer’s perspective, Playmark is professional football’s ultimate 12th Man. The Seattle startup democratizes access to the marketing power of the entire National Football League roster by helping artists and developers easily license digital assets such as player caricatures, signatures and jersey numbers.

Launched last October and funded in part by the NFL Players Association, Playmark addresses the gap between a sports personality’s fan base and his ability to monetize that popularity, according to cofounder and CEO George Aposporos. Licensing, he says, is “a complex, antiquated and painful process” that’s hard for many licensees to understand. Playmark aims to make licensing accessible and easy for anyone who wants to feature an NFL player in his or her product, from T-shirts to apps to online games.

To accomplish this goal, Playmark emphasizes transparency and efficiency. The entire licensing process is web based and standardized on a dashboard, from approval to contracts and royalty payments.

Playmark also lists its royalty rates on its home page and has eliminated upfront royalty guarantee requirements. These changes mean that anyone who wants to use a player’s likeness pays a slightly higher royalty for earnings on his or her product but does not have to generate a mandated minimum amount of money, which is required in many licensing schemes. The absence of a minimum is a boon for small-business licensees, who pay royalties only on their own sales.

Playmark has an agreement with the NFL Players Association in which licensees can use a player’s likeness or jersey number but must contract separately with the NFL to use team logos.

In 2010, NFL Players Inc., the licensing arm of the NFL Players Association, reported licensing fees of $78 million. Aposporos believes Playmark’s system will be useful for other kinds of brands, and vice president Tom Damico says the vision for the company is “to create a centralized platform where complex, multiparty deals” can be negotiated.

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