When the NWSL and NWSL Players’ Association ratified their first-ever collective bargaining agreement on Jan. 31, one of the last pieces to come together in the final days of negotiations was Article 20: “Group Licensing of Player Name, Image and Likeness.”
The section states that the NWSL and its clubs recognize the NWSLPA as the players’ agent in executing commercial rights toward the use of their names, such as trading cards, video games, clothing and toys. Group licensing enables a revenue stream for players and the NWSLPA so that the union can continue to negotiate CBAs and be a presence in the NWSL ecosystem.
The measure was a sticking point for players during the final rounds of discussions with the league. The U.S. women’s national team players, especially Alex Morgan, were adamant about the importance of those rights after having gone through similar negotiations with U.S. Soccer.
While some sections of the CBA required more compromising in the end, the NWSLPA felt that Article 20 was a big win.
“I credit the NWSL for staying in there with us and coming to an agreement on an issue that is of high importance to players,” NWSLPA executive director Meghann Burke told Just Women’s Sports. “This is a recognition of the control and autonomy that players should have over their own name, image and likeness, which is inherent to the person.”
On Wednesday, the NWSLPA built on the progress from the CBA with the announcement of a new exclusive, multi-year partnership with OneTeam Partners, a leader in commercializing collective licensing rights of professional athletes. Under the NWSLPA’s agreement, OneTeam will provide NWSL players and the NWSLPA with group licensing representation to maximize the value of group player rights.
OneTeam has already partnered with other athlete groups, like the USWNTPA, WNBPA, NFLPA, MLBPA, MLSPA and U.S. Rugby Players’ Association. The NWSLPA is confident OneTeam has the experience and tools to pull the them forward at a faster rate while making players’ needs the top priority.
“I found that maybe among the most compelling features of OneTeam is that they get it,” Burke said. “They know what a labor union is. They know that our fundamental mission is to serve the athletes we represent … The commercial opportunity stems from that, but we’ve got to serve and protect our members first and foremost.”
Burke also appreciates how much OneTeam has contributed to the NWSLPA’s evolution as a players’ association.
“They’ve really helped us learn, kind of get smart on group licensing, if you will. But they’ve never lost sight of the fact that we’re a labor union,” she said.
“We think there’s so much growth to be had in women’s soccer and in women’s sports,” said OneTeam spokesperson Eric Winston. “To be working with the NWSLPA and grow it from the beginning, we’re really excited about it … I can’t understate the magnitude of them now having a CBA and us helping in any way we could there.”
Working alongside OneTeam’s other major professional sports partners also gives the NWSL a seat at the table.
“[Women’s sports] is something we believe in,” Winston said. “Quite frankly, to be completely blunt with you, it’s good business.”
One request the players have is to give every fan the option to purchase a name-and-number replica jersey of their favorite player. There has historically been a shortage of jerseys and merchandise in women’s sports, and through OneTeam, the NWSLPA is eager to get those products out into the marketplace and create revenue streams back to the players.
“I think the CBA speaks to who we are, and group licensing speaks to where we want to go,” Burke said. “We’re really, really excited about launching something that I think is just full of potential, it’s full of promise. There’s a lot of unrealized potential in this space, and as players, we said throughout CBA negotiations we want to bet on ourselves. Group licensing is a way of us betting on ourselves.”
Jessa Braun is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports covering the NWSL and USWNT. Follow her on Twitter @jessabraun.