Dozens of former NFL players lit up the federal court docket here in Minnesota with filings on Monday targeted at Defendants including the National Football League, NFL Films, Inc., and NFL Productions, LLC.
The retired players’ suits are the latest in a line of cases dating back to about 2009 when former players first brought claims alleging, as the players have asserted in these new cases, that the Defendants “have earned substantial revenue by producing promotional films and selling products featuring the identities of retired NFL football players,” including the various plaintiffs who filed suit Monday.
The suit goes on to allege that the “Defendants’ glorification of NFL history is a vital component of its present marketing and revenue-generation efforts.”
The players are seeking compensation for the NFL’s use of their likeness and names in promoting NFL Films’ productions under Section 42(a) of the Lanham Act. The players who filed suit in this latest round of complaints have all opted out of a settlement class in a prior class action suit, Dryer v. NFL, 09-CV-2182 (D. Minn.), according to one of the new complaints filed by Plaintiff Douglas Buffone. Buffone played for the Chicago Bears from 1966 to 1979, according to his complaint.
The class action settlement these players opted out of resulted in, among other things, the creation of a licensing agency to market the group rights of retired NFL players, according to the Minnesota law firm representing the class, Zimmerman Reed, PLLP. The league also agreed to pay $42 million to a fund set up to support former players with health and welfare interests, according to class counsel.
Ostensibly, all the former players who filed suit this week are seeking to get a better deal.
This much is true of many of these players: they came of age in a very different era of American professional sports. It was an era where the riches of today were perhaps unforeseeable.
Back in 2009 after these claims started making their way into court, Bob Stein, a seven-season NFL veteran and attorney for several of the retired players, told Law360 that he didn’t have one teammate back early 1970s who did not have an off-season job.
“My fourth year, I went from $25,000 to $30,000,” Stein told Law360 in 2009. “I thought I was stealing, because we had all-pros making $35,000.”
Could those players – and the players who renewed their efforts to get sums they feel entitled to from the NFL this week – have foreseen the cash bonanza that their vocation would beget just a few decades later?
This is starting to sound like a time-old parable about history repeating itself, but brand management, including personal brand management, has to be more of an offensive play at the outset rather than a defensive recoupment someday down the line. I’ve grossly oversimplified today’s example to make the point. But it begs the question, what are you doing to protect your high-potential clients from the future heartache of clawing-back their portion of unforeseen-yet-not-wholly-unpredictable or impossible rewards?