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Sports unions partner with RedBird Capital in new venture

MLB Players Association Executive Director Tony Clark

The players associations of the National Football League and Major League Baseball have struck a partnership with private equity firm RedBird Capital Partners to amplify the licensing of the players’ commercial rights, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal.

The outlet reported the entities have formed a new company called OneTeam Partners LLC, which will pool their licensing operations and invest in various projects to expand their group name, image, and likeness rights.

RedBird Capital has made an initial investment of $125 million, and will own about 40 percent in OneTeam Partners. The respective unions will own the rest. The amount is roughly twice what the MLB Players Association generated in licensing revenue in 2018, primarily through agreements with video game publishers, trading card companies, and apparel makers.

In the OneTeam deal, players will continue to receive a portion of those licensing revenues, as they historically have, and some of that money will continue to fund the unions’ operating expenses. But OneTeam will also use part of the combined licensing money to invest in other business ventures, including various startups that would want to license player name and likeness rights.

The agreement marks the first time the NFL Players Association and MLBPA have struck a commercial partnership such as this.

“Our athletes have been pushing for us to do things precisely like OneTeam,” said Ahmad Nassar, president of the NFLPA’s licensing and marketing arm, NFL Players Inc., to the WSJ. Nassar will be chief executive of OneTeam, while Brent Stehlik, a RedBird operating partner and former Cleveland Browns executive, will be the organization’s president.

RedBird Capital was created in 2014 by former Goldman Sachs partner Gerry Cardinale, who also helped created the YES Network and Legends Hospitality. The company has also had talks with other sports player unions, including the NHL Players Association and National Basketball Players Association, about joining OneTeam.

“I’ve spent the last two decades partnering with rights holders,” Cardinale said to the WSJ. “I think it’s really interesting and exciting to have the players have a seat the table.”