NFLPA Launches Accelerator, DRIVEN, to Help Close Diversity Gap in Licensing

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To address the diversity gap in licensing, the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) today unveiled a new business accelerator – Driven. This program is committed to advocating for greater inclusion of diverse entrepreneurs and their consumer products while empowering them as agents of change, moving them off the sideline and providing them with a seat and voice at the table.

By giving diverse entrepreneurs access to NFLPA assets and to some of the most influential personalities and businessmen in sports – NFL players – through their group licensing rights and marketing potential – Driven will help guide companies from product development through go-to-market stages to ensure they are prepared for strategic growth and long-term success with an NFLPA group license.

At the root of the diversity gap in licensing is what the NFLPA defines as “sideline culture” -- the systemic and inequitable reality experienced daily by business leaders who are people of color, women and/or individuals from other underrepresented groups. For too long, these diverse business entrepreneurs (or “Playmakers,” as the NFLPA recognizes them) have been sidelined from conversations, education, mentorship, resources, advocacy and rooms that would level the playing field and position them for success. The NFLPA-led business accelerator is designed to provide access and opportunity for these Playmakers as a means of breaking down institutional barriers, creating another pathway to get their products in the pipeline and ensuring that all fans and consumers are represented through product offerings in the industry.

“To make change, we must look inward. We advocate for diversity at all levels of our organization, but when looking at our partnerships, we realized that a small percentage of the companies in our licensing portfolio are owned by women or people of color,” said Steve Scebelo, President, NFL Players Inc., the marketing and licensing arm of the NFLPA. “This compelled us to investigate and invest in real change in licensing. Through Driven, we’ll support entrepreneurs with diverse identities while also ensuring there are products in the market that appeal to all fans and consumers, so that we can build a better, stronger and more inclusive network that spans the licensing industry.”

Playmakers will benefit from a two-year enrichment program designed to accelerate their businesses and products by leveraging NFLPA group licensing rights. These rights grant access to more than 2,000 active NFL player rights and marketing influence, with a minimum of six or more players featured in a product line. The program will:

  • Deliver opportunity for funding, mentorship, research and development, product creation and marketing support
  • Offer consultation from industry experts, partners and athletes
  • Present coaching sessions and special events to help navigate and thrive in the licensing ecosystem

The NFLPA developed the accelerator with input from NFL athlete-entrepreneurs, industry specialists and leadership from NFL Players Inc. – one of the world’s largest and most influential licensors, managing over 75 licensees who generated $2.17 billion in player-product sales last year. But the program is not just committed to success for diverse entrepreneurs within professional football. This initiative also invests in the companies and their consumer-focused products, delivering access to world-class athletes for mentorship, intellectual property and marketing while also building a framework for enduring growth and success across the licensing ecosystem.

“We want to create a new playbook, one that brings these amazing entrepreneurs off the sidelines and builds new pathways for them to grow their business and get their products into the hands of all fans,” said Terése Whitehead, Vice President, Consumer Products & Strategy at NFL Players Inc.

The NFLPA has brought together a cross-disciplinary team from licensing, consumer products, sponsorship, marketing, technology and professional sports to form the Driven Advisory Board. This group, which consists of influential leaders who have a passion for creating pathways for diverse business leaders, will provide strategic input on company growth and product development. Board members include:

  • Kimberly Alula (Fanatics, VP Global Head of Inclusion & Innovation)
  • Melissa Bradley (Ureeka, Founder)
  • Maura Regan (Licensing International, President)
  • Brennan Scarlett (Miami Dolphins linebacker and entrepreneur)
  • Malaika Underwood (OneTeam Partners, SVP Licensing)

Applications are open now through December 14, 2021, with the first Driven cohort to be announced at NFLPA Pitch Day on February 9, 2022. Prospective companies can apply to participate and submit their application at nflpa.com/driven.

Over the years, the NFLPA has been a driving force for diversity, equality and inclusion across business. From creating an internal Social Justice Taskforce that supports the grassroots efforts of its player members to partnering with the Alliance for Criminal Justice Reform to building a network for HBCU students, the NFLPA has led in the movement to inspire meaningful change. Driven is the natural next step in the union’s advocacy for reform while building on the success of the NFLPA’s annual Pitch Day, which provides diverse entrepreneurs a chance to present their products to an elite group of judges, athletes and investors.

The original article can be found here.

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