opendorse white-labels platform for NFL players to work with brands

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Posted: Monday, April 14, 2014 12:00 am

opendorse, the Lincoln-based social media startup that pairs athletes and brands for endorsement campaigns, has partnered with NFL Players Inc., the for-profit subsidiary of the NFL Players Association.

The platform, which was white-labeled, has been in beta for a few months. The deal was finalized earlier this year and opens the door for all 2,000-plus NFL players to sign up.

Keith Gordon, president of NFL Players Inc., told Silicon Prairie News that the organization is actively looking for innovative ways to grow their marketing and give brands and players an easier way to connect. 

"We're finding companies that operate in a much more forward-thinking manner," Gordon said. "Our business development team found opendorse through word of mouth and reading articles about them. Almost every deal in the last three years, from national sponsorships to smaller, local brands, has had some sort of social media aspect, so opendorse made sense to us."

opendorse has allowed small, local brands like Husker Auto Group, a Lincoln car dealership, to get Twitter shout outs and micro-endorsement deals with stars like Prince Amukamara, a former Husker and New York Giants corner.

Now, every NFL player can log on to the NFL Players Inc.'s version of opendorse—called Activate—to get paired with brands and get paid for their endorsements, while brands can leverage the social media influence of NFL players, enhance brand awareness and grow revenue.

While big-time players like Peyton Manning and Drew Brees can get endorsements from the big boys like Buick and NyQuil, mid- to lower-tier players don't always get that shot. 

"This is a marketplace where anyone can come to play," Gordon said. "The perception is that you can’t use athlete endorsements unless you’re a big brand, but a company of any size can do athlete endorsements. You shouldn't feel like you don't have access to players."

Gordon said non-star players' stories sometimes match brands well.

For instance, Derrick Coleman, a deaf fullback for the Seattle Seahawks, paired with Duracell for a commercial about his journey to the NFL. The commercial made reference to the hearing aid battery made by the company.

"That resonated with the audience," Gordon said. "Now athletes have the ability to retweet or create messages in their own voice via social media rather than something that's overly commercialized."

"There hasn’t been anything [in the past] that is this well-organized. Before, it was hiring a marketing rep and making phone calls to get opportunities. That could take weeks. Now it takes hours or days."

The NFL group chose to license and white label the platform, but opendorse will still run everything behind the scenes, co-founder Blake Lawrence told Silicon Prairie News. 

"This is an example of how we can license software to associations to help them improve their services to business partners and athletes," Lawrence said.

He thinks the model could take off for other leagues like the NBA or MLB. 

"We're heads down, doing our thing in the Silicon Prairie, so hearing their interest energized our team," he said. "To have someone as big as [the NFL Players Inc.] come in within the first year or so of our business really is validation that our team is needed and we're solving a real problem."

The first step is getting as many football stars signed up as possible, Lawrence said. That way, it will improve the selection for brands now. opendorse athletes also will give brands already associated with the NFL, like Nike, EA Sports and Tide, an option for stronger social media presence.

In the past, opendorse had been acquiring athletes through personal relationships, marketing agencies or agents. The NFL Players Inc. deal will add a huge influx of options to the opendorse platform quickly, Lawrence said.

Players and brands both sign up on the site and then brands can browse registered players and pay them depending on their social media reach like Twitter followers. In the near future, opendorse hopes to have Facebook and Instagram integration as well. The software allows brands to get a big name endorser in seconds, instead of weeks of negotiations with agents.

opendorse also has analytics to track the return on investment for each tweet sent by the athlete.

Agents, brands and athletes will be able sign up on the NFLPA's new site. By the end of the summer, Activate will be out of beta and open to brands in time for the pre-season, Gordon said. 

The startup finished a $300,000 seed round last summer and plans on raising a Series A round this spring. They think the NFLPA deal will spur interest from investors.

Read more about opendorse with our previous coverage: "Hurrdat secures investment, spins out endorsement platform opendorse." 

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