NFL Players Have Ownership in the Business of Football


JC Tretter

The Super Bowl is not only the pinnacle of our NFL season, but it is also a showcase of the power and reach of our business. A lot of the focus on the business of football involves issues about our collective bargaining agreement, revenue sharing, television contracts and player contracts.

One underrated aspect of our business – the players’ business – is NFL Players Inc. (and by extension, OneTeam Partners) and the importance it holds in strengthening our union and our players. When you see the headlines about sports NFTs, trading cards, video games and merchandise, all of it is anchored in the group player rights held by our union’s for-profit marketing and licensing business. The recent buzz about “NIL” (Name – Image – Likeness) is historically rooted in the NFLPA, where we established, perfected and monetized this decades ago.

For example, EA Sports can make NFL Madden, Pepsi can use NFL players in advertisements and Fanatics can make official merchandise featuring NFL players because they must partner with us. NFL Players Inc. uses the revenue generated from those macro deals to both operate our union and pay our members an equal-share royalty payment.

One thing we stress with our player reps is the importance of this revenue stream as a way to remain financially independent as a union. While most unions run their operations off of member dues, we have the ability to save those dues towards a strike/lockout fund and rely on the revenue generated from our marketing and licensing business to operate the day-to-day of our union.

In late 2019, we took this business to the next level by partnering with other sports unions to create OneTeam Partners. The basic premise was the same, but now instead of only one set of group licensing rights in NFL players, we led the charge to build business solidarity with other athletes to pool together our rights and leverage our collective value. OneTeam Partners is able to take a broader approach to marketing and licensing, but it has also taken on more innovative opportunities like content, NFTs and venture. The collective power of athletes has driven NFL Players Inc. to double in revenue in the past decade ($100M in 2009 to $210M in 2021) and has led OneTeam Partners to a more than $2B valuation.

On paper, the equal payouts to individual players may seem modest given the growth of our player salaries and benefits – particularly since those payments are divided among our 2,300+ player membership, the largest among all sports unions. However, the real value in our business is our ability to not have to depend on player dues to run our operations, to leverage the valuation of our rights into having a seat at the table with sponsors, and in helping to lift all athletes to both realize and maximize their value. It also gives athletes an opportunity to not only realize the value in revenue growth, but also take a stake in the companies we partner with as well.

The philosophy, much like our union organizing, is still rooted in the basic principle of solidarity – union members binding together to generate leverage and value. Our success depends on every player participating in our group licensing program so that partners and companies know they are guaranteed a one-stop-shop for player rights and services. Now that we are joining forces with other sports unions, athletes can truly say they have equity in a business that is valued as much as some of the teams they play for.