By Barry Janoff
October 24, 2014: In a current TV spot for DirecTV, former college football stars include Brian Bosworth, Matt Leinart and Heath Shuler, whose NFL careers didn't pan out as they had hoped, wish they could go back to college.
Panini America is helping current pro athletes to do just that.
The sports and entertainment collectibles company said it has exclusive signed deals with the University of Georgia, the University of Kentucky and the University of Miami to use each school's marks in its trading card products.
Panini America also said it plans to unveil similar alliances "with a number of other schools over the next several weeks."
The company said this would be the first time since 2009 that it will include college-branded cards within its NBA, NFL and MLBPA trading card products.
Panini America's plans will focus on "some of the most collectible players that we work with across all sports [who] are closely associated with these three universities," according to a statement from Mark Warsop, CEO for Panini America. As these players already are pros, that would avoid any conflict with the NCAA regarding paying college athletes for their images or autographs.
However, paying players who currently attend Georgia, Kentucky and Miami or schools to be signed in the future would be off-limits. Specifically, NCAA bylaw 126.96.36.199 prohibits student-athletes "[from permitting] the use of his or her name or picture to advertise, recommend or promote directly the sale or use of a commercial product or service of any kind."
"This agreement allows us to feature professional athletes across all sports (NFL, NBA, MLBPA, Olympic sport athletes, golf, etc.) within these schools in their college uniforms and with college marks," said Jason Howarth, vp-marketing for Panini America. "From a process perspective,we would not feature any players until their NCAA eligibility expired or they declared to become a professional athlete. The same would go for signing autograph deals."
Signing autographs and memorabilia has become a sore point for the NCAA.
Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston is currently under investigation due to reports that he signed and was paid for autographing as many as 2,000 items. Florida State released a statement in which it said that the University "at this time [has] no information indicating that he accepted payment for items reported to bear his signature, thereby compromising his athletics eligibility."
Likewise, Georgia State running back Todd Gurley is currently under suspension while an investigation is being conducted into whether or not he was paid for signing memorabilia.
Last season, Johnny Manziel, then quarterback for Texas A&M and current quarterback with the Cleveland Browns, was suspended for the first half of a game against Rice after reports indicated that he had received payment for signing memorabilia. It was never proven that Manziel had taken money for his John Hancock, but was penalized because the NCAA showed that Manziel knew the items he signed would be put up for sale.
For Panini America, feels that the players who will appear on its upcoming college-related cards will be honored, not harassed.
"In addition to college specific trading card products which we will produce, we will feature players in their collegiate uniforms within our professional sports licensed products for the NFL/NFLPA, NBA and MLBPA, which enhances the awareness for the schools," said Howarth. "These players would be covered under our group licensing rights within the respective sports and we would also look to incorporate retired players/famous alumni."
"This is a significant announcement not just for us, but for the entire trading card industry," said Warsop in a statement. "Some of the most collectible players that we work with across all sports are closely associated with these three universities and we're genuinely excited to be able to honor their collegiate accomplishments in our products."
Panini America said the new agreements would take effect with the release of its 2015 NFL/NFLPA trading card products, 2014-15 NBA and 2015 MLBPA products launching in spring of 2015.
"Some of the most collectible players that we work with across all sports are closely associated with these three universities."
According to Howarth, "College sports fans are some of the most rabid and loyal fans on the planet. We are looking forward to creating meaningful marketing activations with our collegiate partners to establish a deeper connection to college sports fans and the universities they root for."
Panini America, based in Irving, Texas, manufactures licensed trading cards and stickers for the NBA, NFL, NFL Players, MLBPA and FIFA World Cup. The company also has exclusive relationships with USA Baseball, USA Basketball and U.S. Soccer.
Among its roster of athletes are Kevin Durant, Andrew Luck, Blake Griffin and Kobe Bryant (all pictured above).
In addition, Panini America has exclusive relationships with the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame and the Pro Football Hall of Fame and owns exclusive entertainment licenses with Disney and "more than 600 global licenses with other sports and entertainment properties."
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