NFLPA's new media company gives access to athletes

Richard Sherman of the Seattle Seahawks
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The NFLPA is launching a new media company aimed at giving publications and brands access to content written by professional athletes from all backgrounds.

The labor organization that represents professional football players announced on Monday the creation of Athlete Content and Entertainment Media (ACE Media). The new organization will provide editorial and branded written and video pieces created by athletes and their teams. Instead of launching its own platform, it will partner with existing publications such as BET Networks and Bleacher Report to distribute the content.

"The mission is to tap into what we think is a huge opportunity to create athlete-driven sports lifestyle content," said ACE Media CEO Scott Langerman.

The NFLPA is the majority shareholder in the company. Sources close to the situation say the company will launch with funding in the seven-figure range. The NFLPA declined to comment.

Langerman, who previously worked as a media consultant for the NFLPA and held senior roles at SB Nation and Comcast SportsNet—said that when the public sees players on game day, they often don't get to see the intimate details off the court and the field. ACE Media will work as a "content engine" offering custom offerings to its publisher partners, including helping connect athletes with outlets and companies, in-house production of content, and advising on creative direction.

For example, publications ranging the likes of ESPN, Sports Illustrated and The Players' Tribune often feature stories by athletes themselves. ACE Media would be the behind-the-scenes conduit that could help find the right athlete to write about a topic, and, depending on the case, could aid in producing the piece.

"As professional athletes we have a huge opportunity to offer unbelievable levels of access and authenticity to the fans that support us," said Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman in a statement. "With the launch of ACE Media, we now have a way to seize that opportunity by creating content that no one else can, showing sides of ourselves that you won't see anywhere else. We're excited about the content we plan to help create, and we're excited by the future of this company."

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The CEO added that ACE Media was launched as an expansion of the NFLPA's for-profit arm that began 20 years ago with NFL Players Inc., its licensing rights sector.

"What we want to be is the fuel that drives all those businesses," Langerman said. "We want to be working with honestly anyone and everybody to help them reach their audiences and give them a higher level of engagement."

Interest could potentially be high. Many brands are looking to sports to reach highly fickle male millennials who are widely known as the hardest demographic to advertise to. Having access to the playmakers that are captivating their interest could attract big marketing dollars, considering sports content is one of the most expensive categories to advertise on online. Still, with advertising during games and game rights coming at a premium, this could be a cheaper option to reach that segment of the population.

While ACE Media plans on expanding access to include athletes from all sports, the initial offerings will be focused on NFL players thanks to the robust support of the NFLPA. Partners announced at launch include Viacom's BET Networks, Turner's Bleacher Report, The Players' Tribune and Sports Illustrated's 120 Sports, which is a division of Time Inc. It also will be working with brand partner Nike.

120 Sports executive vice president Matt Carstens said that when his company and ACE Media began talks, they both discovered they had a shared vision over what types of content should be provided to today's fans and how it should be delivered.

"We have, and can continue to line up players on our own, both NFL players as well as other athletes," he said in an email. "Working with the NFLPA's new venture however enables us to build additional unique programs that leverage multiple NFL players, as well as provides us with access to events that aren't generally open to media. In short, we feel we'll have more opportunities to deliver better NFL content for 120 Sports viewers by partnering with ACE Media."