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Sports & Collegiate

NFLPA’s Top Players

By Karina Masolova, karina@plainlanguagemedia.com

Overall, sports is the second-strongest property type we track. Retail sales grew 4.3% in 2016 to reach $15.4 billion, according to TLL’s Annual Licensing Business Survey. Collegiate-based brands also enjoyed strong sales in 2016 at 2.5% growth, reaching $3.5 billion in sales.

NFL sales, in particular, were up 3.7% in 2016, as compared to 3.4% in 2015. Roughly a third of those sales came from NLFPA-licensed products based on player likenesses (while the NFL licenses the teams). Note that the NFL also tracks the best-selling NFL jerseys, by player, through NFLshop.com. Approximately half of the retail sales of licensed NFL merchandise can be attributed to jerseys.

The NFLPA recently released its Q2 sales results for the 2017–18 season, and along with the list of top-selling player, some interesting highlights from licensees. See the top 25 list below.

  • At No. 1 for all licensed sales, Dak Prescott also sold the most 500 Level t-shirts during the second quarter.
  • Prescott was the top-seller from Dallas Cowboys Merchandising apparel. Teammates Dez Bryant, Ezekiel Elliott, and Jason Witten rounded out the top four sellers.
  • Prescott, Elliott, Tom Brady, Odell Beckham Jr., and Derek Carr sold the most player socks from FBF Originals.
  • Brady, Beckham, Antonio Brown, Carr, and Marshawn Lynch sold the most Nike jerseys and t-shirts.
  • Brady, Russell Wilson, Beckham, Brown, and Ben Roethlisberger sold the most children’s jerseys from Outerstuff.
  • Wilson sold the most pet jerseys and accessories from Pets First.
  • Wentz led sales in bracelets, key chains, and lanyards from Aminco Intl.
  • Rob Gronkowski (University of Arizona) sold the most collegiate co-brand posters, greeting cards, and invitations from Team Spirit Store.
  • Brady sold the most vinyl figures and bobbleheads from Funko.
  • Von Miller (Texas A&M University), Ben Roethlisberger (Miami University of Ohio) and Philip Rivers (North Carolina State University) sold the most collegiate jerseys by Adidas.
  • Rodgers, Prescott, Elliott, and Bryant sold the most framed items from Highland Mint.

Star Teams

The Seattle Seahawks are now home to most players who made the NFLPA’s list with 5 total. But the team doesn’t count the top-selling players—the Dallas Cowboys (4 players) are home to No. 1 and 2, Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott. The New England Patriots boast Tom Brady (No. 3) on its roster. Finally, Russell Wilson at No. 4 takes home the honors for the Seahawks.

Over the years, the number of teams that count three or more best-selling players has remained relatively stable, at 7 or 8 in each season. Likewise, the number of teams with a whopping 5 or more players on the top 50 list has remained steady at one each season (except in the 2016–17 season, where the Seattle Seahawks and Dallas Cowboys both counted 5 players).

What has changed over the years are the spheres of influence. Not included in the list below are teams like the Denver Broncos (peaked with 4 players in 2013–14; count 1 player in 2017–18) and San Francisco 49ers (same).

Note that the below chart was created by taking the top 8 teams for the 2017–18 season (the only teams with at least 3 players on the NFLPA’s top 50 players list) and charting their historical progress. The 2013–14 NFL season was the first for which the full 50 players list was made available.



What’s Your Position?

Quarterbacks are the most represented on the top 50 players list with 17 players making up 34%, followed by wide receivers (15 players; 30%) and running backs (7 players; 14%). The top 11 players take up these three positions.

In 2017–18, defensive backs fell off the top 50 list; four appeared in the 2015–16 season.


Note that the chart below tracks all player positions which ever appeared on the NFLPA’s top 50 players list. The 2015–16 NFL season was the first for which positions for the full 50 players list were made available.



Most Valuable Players

Prescott’s rise to the top of the pack is a dramatic story—especially for a player who was only poised to begin his second season in the league at the time the sales results for the NFLPA list were recorded. Last season, Prescott made his debut on the list at No. 8 on the Q3 list for Feb. 2017. He finished last season at No. 2, behind teammate Ezekiel Elliott.

Take a Knee

A quick note regarding the impact of merchandising sales from the debate surrounding certain NFL players who elected to take a knee during the national anthem. When contacted for comment earlier this season, neither the NFL nor the NFLPA saw reason to worry. Licensees and retailers have remained, similarly, mum.

And while neither licensing body responded to specific requests regarded sales growths recently, I suspect that any declines were offset by an increase in sales from either invigorated or new fans. One player in particular, Pittsburgh Steelers Alejandro Villanueva (he didn’t make the top 50 list), was reported to have a sharp increase in jersey and merchandise sales. A similar phenomenon was observed with Colin Kaepernick’s jersey back in the day.

American football is not a stranger to scandal, and this was one of the least reprehensible and most morally upright in its history. Despite allegations of domestic violence and uncertainty over whether he can even play this season, Ezekiel Elliott is No. 2 on the list. (As of press time: he can, and it’s likely that ultimately his suspension won’t stand.) Based on USAToday’s list, other members of the top 25 list have also had run-ins with the law: Marshawn Lynch (No. 9, DUI in 2012), Dez Bryant (11, domestic violence in 2012), Von Miller (12, driving offense in 2013), Le’Veon Bell (24, marijuana possession in 2014), Julian Edelman (25, assault in 2011). If anything, the recent debate will positively affect the League’s image.

The Top 25 List

The NFLPA’s list is based on total overall sales of all licensed products from online and traditional retail outlets. Sales for the 2017–18 season to-date are reported by over 80 NFLPA licensees such as Nike, VF Imagewear, Fanatics, Outerstuff, Fathead, McFarlane Toys, OYO Sportstoys, Bleacher Creatures, Forever Collectibles, and Photo File. Licensed product categories include men’s, women’s, and youth game jerseys and t-shirts; player murals; figurines; matted and framed photos; bobbleheads; drinkware; jewelry; and electronic device accessories.

Top 25 NFL Players, by Retail Sales of Licensed Products
Data source: NFLPA
2017–18 Season (YTD Mar. 1–Aug. 31, 2017)
RankPlayerPositionTeam
1Dak PrescottQBDallas Cowboys
2Ezekiel ElliottRBDallas Cowboys
3Tom BradyQBNew England Patriots
4Russell WilsonQBSeattle Seahawks
5Odell Beckham Jr.WRNew York Giants
6Aaron RodgersQBGreen Bay Packers
7Antonio BrownWRPittsburgh Steelers
8Derek CarrQBOakland Raiders
9Marshawn LynchRBOakland Raiders
10Carson WentzQBPhiladelphia Eagles
11Dez BryantWRDallas Cowboys
12Von MillerLBDenver Broncos
13Rob GronkowskiTENew England Patriots
14Jason WittenTEDallas Cowboys
15Khalil MackDEOakland Raiders
16J.J. WattDEHouston Texans
17Ben RoethlisbergerQBPittsburgh Steelers
18Matthew StaffordQBDetroit Lions
19Amari CooperWROakland Raiders
20Julio JonesWRAtlanta Falcons
21Philip RiversQBLos Angeles Chargers
22Cam NewtonQBCarolina Panthers
23Richard ShermanCBSeattle Seahawks
24Le’Veon BellRBPittsburgh Steelers
25Julian EdelmanWRNew England Patriots


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