Midweek Tech Scan: How a new Seattle firm dove into NFL player licensing

A Seattle company launches on the basis of its ability to give more companies easier access to license pro football players' signatures and likenesses.

Crosscut archive image.

Matt Hasselbeck as a Seahawk in 2006.

A Seattle company launches on the basis of its ability to give more companies easier access to license pro football players' signatures and likenesses.

Every life experience, properly understood or, even better, properly applied, can be the basis for something special in your life: The apple that dropped on Newton’s head and led to the discovery of gravity.  The calligraphy class that Steve Jobs audited in college and led to his lifelong fascination with fonts and helped transform the personal computer.

Or in the case of George Aposporos, a stint at Amazon.com selling books that led to his founding Playmark, a new Seattle-based website debuting this week offering businesses and entrepreneurs an easy online path to acquiring official rights to the full roster of football players with the National Football League Players Association (NFLPA), the players’ union of the National Football League (NFL).

Playmark has the exclusive rights from the NFLPA to establish licensing deals for the full NFL roster.  Any designer, business, or entrepreneur with ideas of licensing players’ signatures or likenesses now has a one-stop source to deal with instead of the somewhat arcane process formerly in place to market those rights, such as upfront fees and legal hurdles. Playmark is funded with a strategic investment from NFL Players Inc. and angel investors.

Aposporos, who was born in Greece and came to the U.S. as a young child, spent several years at Amazon working with founder Jeff Bezos as part of the company’s IPO management team. While helping the company structure portal deals with AOL, Yahoo and Excite.com, he said he also learned how Amazon marketed books that weren’t best-sellers — and how it perfected the marketing concepts and Internet savvy to make non-best-selling books  and former best-sellers searchable and marketable.

“Here at Playmark,” he said, “the mere fact that you can search by name, access players, see all the roster, and choose to license the entire roster or license their signatures, or caricatures or other types of art [makes the licensing process easier].  The system itself provides a promotional function that is deep and rich. "

Like the book business, pro sports teams always have 1 to 2 percent of players who command a disproportionate share the total economics.  “And yet,” Aposporos noted, “individual players in the middle of the roster can have a lot of value in local markets and in marketing power. Connecting with them is just difficult.”

Some time ago, he continued, pro sports player associations realized it was hard to get a commercial product license. In the case of the NFL players association, it would require contacting 2,000 players and their business teams to get those rights. Instead, a  “group license assignment” was established that gave the NFLPA the exclusive rights to do commercial licensing of products that use six or more players. This is a distinctly different service from product endorsements, Aposporos said, “What we do is more for people using a product like Madden football or a player jersey.”

Playmark is starting with NFL players, but expects to expand to other sports categories in the future. In addition, Aposporos sees the licensing business growing in several ways, including new businesses.  He cited another recent startup, Starstreet.com, a stock market based on selling stock in real players for real money — and created by a sports fan two years out of college (here’s more information).  “They were using public domain material for pages on each player. That’s not a lot of personality.  They’ll be licensing player signatures, and graphics and images as we get them.  Hopefully, that will make their website more valuable.”

Are there any pending agreements with Seattle Seahawks players? None he was willing to disclose, but he said that the licensing business might lead to entrepreneurs marketing shirts with authorized signatures and licenses — but not necessarily their teams. 

“When [then-Seahawks quarterback] Matt Hasselback was traded [to the Tennessee Titans],” he related, “one of our people complained, 'Man, I just bought a Hasselback jersey.  Now I have to buy another one!' If someone had developed an official Hasselback name shirt, with no team logo, someone could follow Hasselback, or any other player, from team to team to team without having to spend their money twice.”

Are you listening, entrepreneurs?

Perhaps you’ve heard of the National Film Festival for Talented Youth (NFFTY), a nonprofit association started by 3 Seattle teenagers in 2007.  Held annually here in Seattle, the festival showcases projects by filmmakers under 22, the 2011 festival featured over 700 film submissions, with 225 entries screened from more than 40 states and 20 nations.

In 2012, the festival will be held on April 26 through 29. The gala will be at the Seattle Cinerama Theatre, and the films will be screened at the SIFF Uptown Theater, 511 Queen Anne Avenue North. 

What brings all this to mind this week is news that Seattle-based Audiosocket, self-described as a music, media, and technology company that delivers up-and-coming talent to the marketplace, is joining with NFFTY to provide young filmmakers free access to legally licensed music. NFFTY filmmakers can license up to five songs for films they’re submitting for a shot at being exhibited during the festival. In turn, Audiosocket will pay their artists the commission for use in NFFTY films, so the filmmakers won't incur any licensing fees.

To anyone young or old working in film, music and music licensing is one of the thorniest — and more expensive — items in the filmmaking oeuvre. The fact that an organization is helping young filmmakers with this difficult production is, in the vernacular, awesome. The company's press release on the program is here.

In other film-related news, the IMDb movie data base, an Amazon-owned company headquartered here in Seattle and one of the true jewels on the Internet for movie lovers, is starting to open its doors to a more popular entertainment form: iPad and iPod apps. This week, IMDb is introducing IMDb Buzz, an app for entertainment news. This follows on the heels of its recent release of IMDb Trivia, an interactive game site on movie lore. 

I’ve played the trivia game and found it fun — and not threatening to people who love movies but don’t want to be embarrassed by questions about the brand of tie Charles Foster Kane wore in the party sequence of “Citizen Kane.” (I have no idea if anyone has even asked that question, but it’s the kind of trivia quiz that can cause people never to play trivia games because they know they’re doomed to fail before they start.)

According to Col Needham, founder and CEO of IMDb, “In the last month alone, we built a dedicated, platform-optimized app focused on features that IMDb’s more than 110 million monthly unique visitors worldwide spend the most time consuming on our site: entertainment news and trivia respectively.”

Users will have access to news sources such as Access Hollywood, indieWire, and The Wrap, while following their favorite celebrities, TV shows, films, and news sources in a customized newsfeed — all from the convenience of their iPhone. In addition, Android phone users will be able to receive notifications with the latest news customized to their tastes.

Editor's Note: Crosscut is expanding its coverage of local technology companies and issues. Skip Ferderber welcomes local story ideas.  Please feel free to email skip.ferderber@crosscut.com.


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