Move Over Honey Boo Boo. Here Comes Honey Badger TV, Courtesy of NFL Players Association

Nike to Sponsor Content Featuring NFL Players Off the Field

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The NFL Players Association believes there's 'unlimited' interest in its members off the field.
The NFL Players Association believes there's 'unlimited' interest in its members off the field. Credit: Rhonda Wise/Bloomberg

If the NFL Players Association gets its way, the Honey Badger will be competing with Honey Boo Boo for TV ratings.

Keen to leverage what it deems an insatiable appetite for sports, the players association is getting into the content business. Its new media company, Athlete Content & Entertainment, or Ace Media, will produce scripted and unscripted series, animated programs, short-form content and audio. Among the NFL players Ace has high hopes for is Arizona Cardinals safety Tyrann Mathieu, aka the Honey Badger, who last month generated media buzz scooping free ice cream at an Arizona Cold Stone Creamery.

So far Ace has distribution agreements with a handful of outlets, including Derek Jeter's Players' Tribune. But NFL Now, NFL Network and are logical partners. The first TV show will air sometime next year.

"There is -- and I don't think I'm overstating it -- an unlimited supply of stories and interest," said Ace Media CEO Scott Langerman, a former Vox Media executive.

Like the players association, the NFL is turning to content. The league, which last year generated more than $12 billion in revenue, asked teams to deliver an unprecedented amount of content last season for NFL Now, a personalized video service created in 2014. NFL games accounted for the top 20, and 45 of the 50 most-watched programs, last fall.

New fans
Creating a media company is an innovative way for players to tap into the demand for all things football as well as reach new fans, said Paul Swangard, who focuses on managing global partnerships for the University of Oregon's business school.

"It will still come down to the quality of the content," he said. "But the athletes will have more control, and that seems to be what they want."

The players association is the sole equity holder in Ace Media, though talks with outside investors have taken place, said Ahmad Nassar, president of NFL Players Inc., the union's licensing and marketing arm.

"Right now we don't need the money," he said. "We wanted to talk with potential investors from a gut-check and sounding board perspective -- to see whether our hypothesis is right. The feedback has been tremendous."

Corporate sponsors
Ace is also getting support from its corporate licensees, including Nike, which will have sponsor-branded content, Mr. Nassar said, adding that it would makes sense for other union licensees and NFL sponsors to participate, too.

Ace will begin by leveraging the players association's exclusive rights and access to more than 1,800 active football players. It will also court athletes from other sports leagues in the U.S. and abroad.

The mission is to showcase athletes in "genuine, gritty and interesting" programs that will transcend the jersey-wearing audience, Mr. Nassar said. He cited as an example a June episode of ABC's game show "Family Feud," which featured 10 NFL players.

"Let's say we're going to do a cooking show on Food Network," Mr. Nassar said. "That person may not be a football fan."

Ace Media will also provide players for existing programs, including interview segments from Bleacher Report's "Take it to the House" series, which is sponsored by Best Buy Co. In one episode, cameras follow San Diego Chargers defensive tackle Corey Liuget while he shops for a new home.

Besides the former New York Yankee captain's initiative, Ace Media has distribution partnerships with Black Entertainment Television, Turner's Bleacher Report and 120 Sports, a live- streaming network whose investors include, Time Inc., the NBA, NHL and Nascar.

Mr. Langerman, the Ace Media CEO, said he's the poster child for the target audience.

"I digest everything I can find about my teams and players, and then it's not enough," he said. "I'm always looking for more. We're counting on people like me being out there."

-- Bloomberg News

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