Marketing efforts remain in season for league, players

NEW YORK -- Business as usual in the NFL.

Not among the owners, coaches and players. Not between Commissioner Roger Goodell and the NFL Players Association. Nor between general managers and player agents.

In marketing the game, however, the lockout hasn't 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 remain 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 teams. 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 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 wouldn't identify specific companies with whom the players are talking, but he 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 or not 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 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 also has never been a lockout to affect the business of pro football.

Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press

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