Building the Team
It is true that serving as the collective bargaining representative for all current Major League Baseball (MLB) players is MLBPA’s primary function. But on top of assisting players with grievances and salary arbitration and working to ensure optimal playing conditions for players, serving as the group licensing agent on behalf of the players is becoming an evermore important focus for MLBPA.
The MLBPA’s Players Choice group licensing program leverages the marketing power of MLB players, assisting licensees and sponsors that are looking to link their brands and products to MLB’s stars. MLBPA has agreements with each player that provide it with exclusive, worldwide right to use, license and sublicense each player’s publicity rights for any product, brand, service or product line when more than two players are involved.
MLBPA works to select licensees that are capable of producing high-quality products. It reviews and approves all products, advertises and promotes licensed products, conducts retail programs to boost sales, and audits licensees to make sure all royalties are paid. It is involved with a wide range of product categories, from trading cards, collectibles and electronic games to wireless products, apparel and novelties. It also takes part in promotional programs with a number of licensees and takes part in numerous special events.
Establishing strong relationships with licensees and retailers is of critical importance to MLBPA. It has many long-term partners, and it has been creating new relationships. In all of its licensing endeavors, MLBPA strives to build lasting strategic partnerships.
“The players are our greatest asset, and many of the players are actively involved in our programs,” Kaplan says. “We look to capitalize on great performances by players, and we want to make it easy for retailers and licensees to do business with us. We make sure retailers are interested in our programs and products, and we work together with licensees to create compelling products that will excite our fans.”
Among the programs MLBPA has focused on is a rekindling of its relationship with New Era Cap, which had been a long-time partner and recently came back into the fold. By working with New Era and the LIDS retail headwear stores, MLBPA is literally ushering in a new era for its baseball cap offerings.
“Customization is an ongoing fashion trend, and people are looking to express their creativity,” says Nancy Willis, senior category director of apparel and retail development. “They can create custom New Era caps through our partnership with LIDS. We are working with other apparel licensees on additional apparel programs that can allow fans to be the designer of what they are wearing.”
This kind of customization can ultimately tie into MLBPA’s ongoing efforts to expand its licensing and marketing efforts through the power of social media. Once fans express their own creativity and design their customized apparel, they can share their creations with the world over the social media channel of their choosing.
“We have seen that social media is the direction of the future, as it is how the younger generation is communicating and shopping,” Willis says. “It is a great way for players and fans to connect, and connecting our programs to social media is a natural extension. Customization programs are great because they extend our reach through the online world. Displaced fans can get products for their favorite players at the touch of a button. It makes players and products more accessible.”
Another area that is a key focus for MLBPA is women’s apparel. The organization is working with licensees to increase women’s apparel offerings because it has found that female fans are looking for more than just a standard name and number t-shirt. “Our research has showed that women want more fashion-forward apparel that they can wear away from the ballpark,” Willis says.
Beyond that, MLBPA is working with big and small licensees to increase its local programs. By working with licensees that are online, quick to market and in tune with local nuances, it can help create timely products that are fashion oriented and trendy.
“Smaller licensees are using social media and online retail channels to get to market fast with exciting designs,” Kaplan says. “That is something we are seeing success with on the apparel side, and we are working with bigger licensees to help them look for ways they can adapt to take advantage of that business model.”
Growing the Game
As players such as Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera have said goodbye to the game in the last few seasons, MLBPA has begun to leverage the power of the next generation of stars. Players like Bryce Harper, Mike Trout and Giancarlo Stanton will be the face of baseball’s future, and MLBPA is building programs around its budding stars. In the end, MLBPA’s licensing efforts will help to grow the game and ensure it remains a part of the fabric of America for generations. Its programs will also help the game to grow internationally. Just as MLBPA will continue to represent the players’ interests at the bargaining table, so too will it look for new and innovative ways to represent their rights on retail shelves and e-commerce sites.
“We must work with our licensees to meet retailers’ needs from market to market so we can take advantage of every opportunity,” Kaplan says. “We are always analyzing our business so we can put our resources toward areas where we can find the most success.”