Licensing agreement opens doors for sales of Georgia Tech athletes’ jerseys

September 25, 2021 Atlanta - Georgia Tech's quarterback Jeff Sims (10) gets off a pass during the second half of an NCAA college football game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta on Saturday, September 25, 2021. Georgia Tech won 45-22 over North Carolina. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

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September 25, 2021 Atlanta - Georgia Tech's quarterback Jeff Sims (10) gets off a pass during the second half of an NCAA college football game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta on Saturday, September 25, 2021. Georgia Tech won 45-22 over North Carolina. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

One of the more anticipated outcomes of college athletes’ being able to profit from the use of their name, image and likeness – sales of jerseys and T-shirts with the athletes’ names and numbers – could be coming to Georgia Tech soon.

It’s possible and even likely through Tech’s group-licensing agreement for its athletes with the Brandr Group, a brand management, marketing and licensing agency. The agreement, announced Tuesday, grants the agency permission to work with the institute’s licensing partners in conjunction with deals it creates for participating athletes.

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Similarly to how unions representing professional athletes in different leagues collectively license the names, images and likenesses of their athletes with apparel companies and makers of video games and trading cards, Brandr is in the business of making deals at the college level on behalf of participating athletes. It has signed deals with more than 60 schools and collectively represent more than 15,000 athletes.

Brandr president and founder Wesley Haynes, a Tech alumnus (class of 1984, industrial systems engineering), told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that Adidas (Tech’s apparel provider) already has expressed interest and “we’ve had, I would say, between 10 and 15 of our licensees ask us, ‘When are you going to get Georgia Tech student-athletes in the program?’ I expect that you’ll start seeing some product out within 60 to 90 days, quite frankly.”

Haynes clarified that he primarily was referencing jerseys and other apparel items as the merchandise that would be most quickly available. Virginia, a Brandr client, went from finalizing its agreement with the agency in May to announcing last week that fans can purchase customizable jerseys (including with the jersey numbers and last names of Cavaliers athletes who have signed with Brandr) for seven different Virginia teams, including football and men’s and women’s basketball, from the school bookstore website.

Yellow Jackets jerseys could be sold in campus bookstores and through the Tech website. Haynes said that Brandr has said that the company is working to have jerseys available in sporting-goods stores such as Dick’s Sporting Goods.

The group-licensing agreement is different than other NIL deals, such as endorsement deals that individual athletes can make with a company for a personal appearance or agreements with collectives funded by the school’s supporters, and does not restrict athletes from taking part in either arrangement. Athletes who opt in to the Brandr agreement give the agency their permission to use their collective NIL rights in deals branded with the school’s marks or logos.

Other example of possible products include a Georgia Tech-branded T-shirt with team members’ names or images, a ball or helmet with athletes’ signatures and non-fungible tokens. Without a collective-licensing agreement, Tech’s athletes could sell a T-shirt with their images, name or jersey number on it, but it couldn’t have any Tech trademarks on it. Working with Tech’s licensing partners, Brandr can set up deals for athletes that also use the school’s logos and marks.

“Let’s say that Coca-Cola wanted to do a package with the starting five on the Georgia Tech women’s basketball team,” Haynes said. “That could get done. Or even stadium cups. A lot of people ask us, ‘Give us ways that this will work.’ And I kind of twist it back and say, ‘Look at professional sports, and, quite frankly, tell me what category couldn’t work this way.’”

Other athletic departments that have signed with Brandr include Georgia, Alabama, North Carolina and N.C. State. Haynes said that his company’s expectation was that 80% to 90% of a school’s athletes would sign with the agency, but that the yield has often been even higher.

“We’ve got the entire Michigan football team, the entire Ohio State and Alabama football teams,” he said.

Athletes would not be paid up front, but would receive payment if deals are struck that use their NIL. Athletes would be paid equally for a product such as video games or a team-autographed ball. An athlete would receive a royalty for an individualized product such as a jersey with his or her name and number on it. Haynes said that for a jersey in the $100 range, an athlete can expect to receive about $10 in royalties.

Haynes is particularly hopeful for sales in jerseys. Jersey makers have steered in recent years from offering products with numbers of star players, undoubtedly wary of being seen as profiting off those athletes without compensating them. The numbers available or sale on Tech jerseys are generally No. 1 and the year (i.e., 21 in 2021). As a result, typically make up about 1-2% of college apparel sales, but about 20% in professional sports, Haynes said.

“I do think that it may start slow in year 1 and 2, but I do think it will be thousands of dollars per player over time,” Haynes said.

While athletes in football and men’s basketball likely stand a greater chance to reach those levels of income, Haynes said that athletes in less-visible sports who have achieved high levels of recognition could also stand to profit.

Another, later step for Brandr is to bring former players into the fold. Jerseys for Calvin Johnson and Joe Hamilton likely would have a market for Tech fans.

“That’ll happen, but, frankly right now, it’s just trying to get current athletes,” Haynes said.

The highly popular EA Sports football video game (expected to return in 2023) is an obvious possibility for a group-licensing deal. Brandr recently partnered with another company that will help them explore and develop possibilities for sports video games. Haynes said that similar games for other sports are on his radar.

“This offers us an opportunity to do college golf or women’s soccer or women’s softball,” he said. “So for us, yes, the one that everybody points to is the college football video game, but I think that this offers us a chance to have five to 10 types of video-game licenses.”

Could a Jeff Sims bobblehead doll or a Deebo Coleman poster be available for fans before too long, with sales from those items going into those athletes’ pockets?

“For us, this is really the start of NIL group-rights program,” Haynes said.