• Fanatics will replace Nike as NFLPA's biggest licensee
  • Jacksonville e-tailer will also control all sub-licenses

Any company that wants to sell official NFL player products -- Cam Newton jerseys, Odell Beckham Jr. bobbleheads, Richard Sherman dangle earrings -- will soon have to go through e-commerce giant Fanatics Inc.

The NFL Players Association is granting the Jacksonville, Florida-based online retailer the right to say who can use players’ names and images on apparel and other merchandise, according to a letter the union sent Friday to its current partners and reviewed by Bloomberg News.

Starting in March 2017, Fanatics will replace Nike Inc. as the biggest maker and seller of player merchandise. If Nike or others want to sell player t-shirts or other merchandise, it will have to pay for a sub-license from Fanatics.

Both Ahmad Nassar, who leads the union’s marketing division, and Fanatics spokesman Meier Raivich declined to comment.

The Players Association chose Fanatics, already the biggest online seller of fan gear, in part because its design and production process is remarkably fast. When a big moment happens on the field, the company can put celebratory T-shirts for sale within hours, regardless of whether the player involved is Pro-Bowl quarterback Cam Newton or sixth-year tackle Derek Newton.

For example, New York Giants receiver Odell Beckham Jr. became an overnight sensation in 2014 when he made an acrobatic one-handed touchdown grab in a game against the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday Night Football. It took weeks to get product related to Beckham’s catch in the hands of consumers. By then the enthusiasm had died down, and the commercial opportunity was lost.

In the past few years, NFL Players Inc. has looked to make more sweeping deals, but with fewer companies. It’s made Panini America Inc. its exclusive licensee of trading cards, and broadened its relationship with Electronic Arts Inc.’s EA Sports video games.

Those categories cater to a deep player assortment -- both trading cards and video games have always included stars and backups alike. Apparel and hardgoods are more challenging. Last year roughly 1,000 NFL players, about half the league, was featured on a piece of clothing or merchandise, or made an official appearance. The union’s ultimate goal is to make all 2,000 players marketable in some way.

"The driving charge of the NFLPA’s licensing and marketing arm, NFL Players Inc., is to maximize the sales and assortment of player-identified products and to generate increased exposure for our members," the NFLPA said in the letter. "We have spent significant time evaluating industry trends and new business models in order to determine the most effective way to achieve these objectives."

Fanatics, which has licensing agreements with all four major U.S. leagues, runs the NFLPA’s e-commerce website, and has worked with the NFLPA since 2012 on what’s called the All-Player Program, offering jerseys of every single NFL player.

Fans may not care who holds the NFLPA licenses. The most noticeable change may be that Fanatics will be able to make available more products featuring a wider range of players. The players -- especially those that aren’t superstars -- may notice too, because every time one of "their" products is sold, they get a portion of the revenue.

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