For years, NFL players seemed like cogs in a heavy-duty machine driving the league’s data revolution.
Now they have skin in the game, thanks to NFL Players Inc. taking an undisclosed ownership stake in Sports Data Labs, a company that captures and distributes human data in real time for commercial use. The NFL Players Association’s business arm hopes this unprecedented deal reshapes how players monetize their personal data.
“It’s the same way the industry has evolved because of blockchain and Web3,” Sean Sansiveri, general counsel and head of business affairs for NFL Players Inc, said in a video interview. “The licensing of player data is the next evolution in this innovation of licensing practices.”
NFL player data will be licensed sold and distributed through Sports Data Lab technology, and the NFLPA expects these insights will not only benefit members financially but also from a health and wellness perspective. At the same time, the stake will allow the association to make sure any deal aligns consistently with its group licensing program.
Sansiveri says the partnership is positioned to go beyond popular products like NFTs and collectibles, and identify other to-be-determined licensing opportunities. The details of the agreement were not disclosed, but it includes revenue sharing, equity and flexibility on the length.
Players don’t have to participate, but there are plenty of incentives; they will be paid through a royalty structure and receive a “healthy chunk” of revenue percentage from new deals that include their personal data.
The NFL Players Inc., which generated $216 million in revenue during its last fiscal year, has had eight consecutive years of record growth. The NFLPA believes this latest investment with Sports Data Labs provides a new ability to license a broad range of products that will boost Players Inc.’s bottom-line significantly.
“This is part of the plan to grow all the revenue that powers the union but also with returns to players in the form of a royalty check,” Sansiveri said.
The non-exclusive agreement comes as fitness trackers and wearables become more common around the sports world. NFL Players Inc. is already in talks with sports analytics company BreakAway Data, which recently signed a deal with the XFL. The NFLPA also has adjacent partnerships with wearable tech company Whoop and Zebra Technologies Corp. (NASDAQ: ZBRA).
The data-licensing market is ripe. With a growing number of third-party companies interested in leveraging collected performance data, players stand to realize large gains in sports betting assets, digital trading cards and video games. The league is already at work on deals in all those areas.
OneTeam Partners, the group licensing partner of the NFLPA, isn’t directly involved in this deal but will likely be included if one of the union’s existing video game partners licenses the data. For example, the NFL and NFLPA recently announced a deal to create an NFT video game through Mythical Games.
The big-data revolution, from biometrics to user input, has impacted collective-bargaining agreements across pro sports. The language included in the NFL’s latest CBA, signed two years ago, has provided a cleaner landscape that opens the door for more efficient monetization opportunities for players. Revenue sharing in deals between third-party companies has been a point of interest for the union for some years now, but the advances in analytics technology and recent market demand is bringing these data-related partnerships to the forefront ahead of the 2022 season.
Crunchbase data shows that Sports Data Labs funding reached $4 million in 2019, with help from Aser Ventures, a London-based investment firm with business ties to 49ers Enterprises (business arm of the San Francisco 49ers). The startup has also previously partnered with the ATP Tour, PGA Tour and Professional Squash Association.