NFL rookies get schooled on the business playbook


The NFL's top rookies are taking a break from learning the X's and O's of the game, trying to get their first taste of the business and marketing side of professional football.

Vikings' Bridgewater on NFLPA rookie premiere

More than 40 of football's best rookies were in Los Angeles Friday at the 20th annual NFL Players Association rookie premiere, where sponsors, partners and licensees meet with players in their first major business and marketing event.

The goal of the premiere is to ensure that rookies are successful with the business side of the game and to give them the information they need to make sure their "brand" is strong.

"It's a cutthroat business…Players have to know that their success in the NFL is heavily dependent upon sponsors, licensees, and the people who pump money in to make the sport as big as it is," said Keith Gordon, president of NFL Players Inc., the licensing and marketing subsidiary of the players union.

Players hit the classroom on Thursday, where retired NFL players like Marshall Faulk coached players and hosted a panel discussion on brand building.

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Faulk said the brand that players build around their names is going to carry them throughout their entire careers. "If you manage that brand well, you can continue to make money with companies and entities long after your playing days," he said.

Players are also advised on how to handle the sudden wealth that comes with being a professional athlete. This year's first round rookie class signed for salaries ranging from $6 million to $22 million.

"Say no as much as you can," warned Faulk, who told the players that friends, families and other money-seekers are going to start coming out of the woodwork.

Jaguars' Bortles at NFL Rookies premiere

For the Minnesota Vikings' first-round draft pick, Teddy Bridgewater, the premiere has been eye-opening.

"Everyone knows the playing side but not everyone knows what's going on behind the scenes. The rookie premiere is allowing us to gain that knowledge," Bridgewater told CNBC's "Squawk on the Street."

It's also an opportunity for the players to meet with brands and sponsors for the first time. Many of the top companies, including Nike, Pepsico and FedEx, attended the event to meet the rookies face-to-face.

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Each year, NFL Players Inc. facilitates more than 100 player service deals related to the four-day rookie premiere alone. Player deals can run the gamut from national endorsement campaigns to a single deal for an appearance.

Shifting from a college career without income to a pro career with a mega-million dollar contract can be daunting.

"While the NFL is obviously fun, it's a business. One of the most important things we can teach these guys when they come in is that they are walking into a very big business," said Gordon.

Average career of 3.5 years

Teddy Bridgewater of the Louisville Cardinals poses with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell after he was picked #32 overall by the Minnesota Vikings during the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft at Radio City Music Hall on May 8, 2014 in New York City.
Getty Images

Top-drafted quarterback Blake Bortles of the Jacksonville Jaguars said he's using his time to network and expand his options for after football.

"I've learned the NFL isn't a lifelong job—the average duration is just 3.5 years," he said.

However, it's not all textbooks and lectures at the rookie premiere. It's also the first time the rookies will meet with the trading card companies like Topps and Panini America for autograph sessions, and help sponsors like videogame maker EA Sports with images.

"It's been a great opportunity and probably the last time our rookie class will be in one place again," said Bortles.