NFLPA: Engaging the Next Generation of Football Fans Through Toys and Entertainment


By Cary Grossart

The pandemic has created upheaval across the globe. It has turned the sports industry on its head. If there is a hopeful prospect in all this uncertainty, it is that people, brands, and professional athletes have stepped up in extraordinary ways to adapt and evolve to ensure that business and fandom continues.

According to the 2020 Global Licensing Survey, worldwide sales revenue of licensed merchandise and services grew to $292 billion last year. The entertainment/character segment stayed the leading category, while sports was among the top four largest sectors. Retail sales of licensed toys and games also showed growth. Even as the marketplace remains unpredictable, the Global report shows positive signs as we all work through this crisis.

The toy and entertainment category represents incredible room for growth, as we look to connect with the youngest fans of the NFL and their parents. We are enthusiastic to continue to explore new and exciting partnerships that allow the youngest fans to engage with more than 2,000 players.

The Virtual Fan Experience

The sports landscape has changed but fans are still finding ways to engage with the athletes they love. There are now opportunities in the digital space that did not exist before, and the NFLPA is spearheading innovative opportunities in the virtual realm with brand partners to bring players closer to their fans through digital activations. NFLPA partner Procter & Gamble hosted a virtual red carpet with rookies during the NFL Draft, and licensee EA Sports used social media to share with fans the reactions of the league’s newest stars as they received their Madden video game ratings. In fact, the world is playing and watching more EA Madden NFL than ever before. In April alone, community and celebrity-athlete competition broadcasts equaled 2,600 NFL seasons of Madden NFL 20 content watched by viewers around the world.

Social Media Connecting Players & Fans

Based on data from Opendorse, the NFLPA’s social media activation partner, professional athletes drive 11 times higher engagement with fans than brands on social media. In a new list, the NFLPA and Opendorse analyzed the social media activity of current NFL players and ranked the most influential and marketable for brands. Cam Jordan, Odell Beckham Jr., and D.K. Metcalf were tops in consistent engagement, overall activity, and audience growth rate, respectively. Yet another reminder that social media is a strong and influential platform to engage youth.

As fans become more active on these channels, the more they learn about their favorite players. They connect on all levels, from live chats and gaming to virtual player-hosted youth camps. These settings expose fans to players’ personalities, family life at home, as well as their work in local communities. We have seen many professional athletes step up in meaningful ways to tackle hardships created by COVID-19. Players like Dalvin Cook and Danielle Hunter donating their Madden proceeds to provide PPE. Jared Goff and Andrew Whitworth contributing enough money to pay for two million meals for folks in Los Angeles. Cam Jordan funding technology so kids can continue their schoolwork through the shutdowns.

Future Opportunities in Toys, Entertainment

According to research around the perception and purchasing influence of NFL players, the connection to players reflects positively on the brand for many fans.* It is the players’ personalities and how they inspire by giving back to their communities that are the biggest factors when it comes to favorability among young fans.

We are eager to add licensees and expand new product lines that appeal to kids’ imaginations and place a variety of today’s most exciting players on toy boxes and other forms of entertainment. We believe families and kids would respond well to an expanded assortment, and the timing is right for toy companies to propose new products for licensing consideration by the NFLPA.

* Research study conducted by Morning Consult (2019)

Cary Grossart is Business Development Manager at NFL Players Inc., the licensing and marketing arm of the NFL Players Association. For more information please contact Cary at cary.grossart@nflpa.com or (202) 572-7477