With the NCAA stepping back and allowing most decisions on college-athlete name, image and likeness compensation to be regulated by state laws and individual schools, two major NIL companies see an opening for new group-licensing opportunities in college sports.
Group licensing creates a one-stop shop for companies wanting to do multi-player deals involving name, image and likeness. It’s how things like licensed apparel, video games or trading cards happen among professional athletes and within pro sports leagues. For many years, group licensing was explicitly prohibited in the NCAA, alongside any other form of athlete compensation.
That’s changing, and now Opendorse and OneTeam Partners are joining forces to deliver group licensing opportunities to athletes, announcing an exclusive partnership days before college athletes will be allowed to monetize their NIL through commercial and endorsement deals for the first time. OneTeam said it sees significant untapped group licensing opportunity in the college space, particularly with the infrastructure it already has in place to bring licensed products to market quickly.
By partnering with Opendorse, OneTeam will have a tech-based way to aggregate college athlete rights without any sort of college athlete union or players association.
“We do this for other athletes whose group rights we represent, and we’re really confident that we can replicate a similar model in college,” said Malaika Underwood, SVP of Licensing at OneTeam Partners. Underwood said OneTeam plans to seek group licensing with brands across all major sponsorship categories.
“Brands like Nike, Fanatics or EA [Electronic Arts] are not going to go out and get individual athletes to sign into a license agreement because they don’t even do that on the pro side,” Underwood explained. “The role we’re playing is to go out and aggregate those rights and create groups so that we can then help brands bring products to market. There’s a level of fairness and opportunity that group licensing brings that should be really appealing to all college athletes [because it] allows for something like a video game to come to life that could include all of the athletes on a given football team. It’s not going to just be the star quarterback.”
The opening comes after the NCAA set forth guidelines for a system where schools decide their own name, image and likeness rules—at least for now. Though the NCAA’s “Interim NIL Policy” prohibited performance-based compensation in individual athlete endorsement deals, the guidelines did not address (or explicitly prohibit) group licensing. When NCAA athletes become eligible to use their name, image and likeness to profit starting July 1, Opendorse and OneTeam are prepared for that to include group deals.
Group licensing is one of OneTeam’s main business areas alongside marketing, media and investing. The firm launched in late 2019 as a joint venture between the NFLPA, MLBPA and RedBird Capital Partners to leverage the brands of stars like Patrick Mahomes and maximize the collective value of pro athletes’ name, image and likeness across those four key verticals. OneTeam represents the commercial business interests of the athletes of the NFLPA, MLBPA, MLSPA, U.S. Women’s National Team Players Association, WNBPA and U.S. Rugby PA.
Athletes will be able to opt in to group licensing programs and earn compensation through the now fully launched Opendorse Deals athlete marketplace, OneTeam’s preferred platform to manage these initiatives. The two partners plan to strike group-licensing NIL deals for consumer products like jerseys and video games (OneTeam facilitated a multi-year renewal with video game company Electronic Arts and the NFL for Madden in 2020, one of several gaming deals the firm has done to date).
OneTeam said all revenue from the deals will be shared amongst the participating athletes, and the firm’s compensation will come from the brand side. OneTeam will pay Opendorse Deals a transaction fee, like any other brand user on its platform.
“There are a lot of new entrants to name, image and likeness rights,” Blake Lawrence, Opendorse CEO, said in an interview. “OneTeam is not a new entrant. They are the masters of athlete NIL rights monetization. Group licensing and the revenue from it is a tremendous source of value to professional athletes. Student athletes deserve to benefit by working with the best of the best in group licensing and monetization too. That’s OneTeam.”
Opendorse already works with more than 40,000 amateur, professional and retired athletes, using its social media technology to maximize and monetize their brands. Its own partners include the NFLPA, NBPA, WNBPA, LPGA, MLBPA, NHL and PGA TOUR, as well as more than 100 college programs. While this deal is targeted toward helping OneTeam aggregate college athlete rights, Lawrence said he has “no doubt” the firm will also be able to activate group licensing deals with pros using its Deals platform.