Much of the outside push that led to college athletes being able to capitalize on their name, image and likeness came through the cry over video games and jersey sales.
But when college athletes began cashing in on July 1, money wasn’t coming from those two areas. With a lack of a group licensing deal, Electronic Arts would have to start signing player by player and with jersey sales, it was believed that it would require a deal between the school and the players, which would firm up an overt business partnership that schools wouldn’t be comfortable with.
Enter The M Den, the University of Michigan officially licensed retailer who counts itself as one of the biggest licensed collegiate stores in the nation. On Friday, The M Den tweeted that, for the first time, it was offering fans the rights to get players’ names on the back of their Michigan football jerseys.
For first time ever, get a customized officially licensed @UMichFootball jersey with the name and number of current student-athletes!
— The M Den (@TheMDen) July 16, 2021
“Before the Ed O’Bannon case, we could do player’s numbers on the back,” M Den owner Scott Hirth said. “When it was Denard Robinson, we could make No. 16’s in the store. After O’Bannon, we could only do the No. 1 and the year.”
When Jim Harbaugh came along to coach, Nike and The M Den started to sell No. 4, Harbaugh’s old number, but without his name on the back.
The deal is not with the school. It is with The M Den.
“The University of Michigan is not a party to this agreement,” Michigan associate athletic director Dave Ablauf told The Action Network.
So far, 50 players on this year’s roster have signed deals and are available for order. Hirth said The M Den was assisted by Valiant Management, a division of the Valiant brand, a line that was offered exclusively at The M Den. When name, image and likeness began, owners Jared and John Wangler, the latter of whom a quarterback at Michigan from 1976-80, sprung into action and helped The M Den aggregate the approval of players for licensing.
Each jersey has to be personalized in a custom manner by either an online or in store order, meaning there won’t be jerseys of a particular player hanging on the rack. These jerseys will cost $120 for names and numbers to be ironed on and $180 for them to be sewn.
In the past, it was speculated that if this ever happened, players would get at best 6% of the wholesale cost of the jersey. In this case, it would be $3.60 or $5.40 based on wholesale costs of $60 and $90. But Hirth said The M Den wanted to do better.
Hirth wouldn’t disclose the exact percentage, but he said every player will be getting the same percentage multiplied by how many of their jerseys they sell. Each jersey will exceed $10.
“We wanted to do the best that we could for these players,” Hirth said. “Yes, we are a for profit business, but we are partners with the school.”
Hirth added that the players likely will make more money per jersey than The M Den will.
Whether other retailers at other schools follow, without school participation, remains to be seen, but The M Den had everything going for it.
It is an official retailer of the school, so it has the right to use university trademarks with the players’ names. It also is an official retailer of Nike, which means it has the right to take blank jerseys and customize them.
Having names available should increase the sales of jerseys as compared to the previous limited options of just a few numbers and no names on the back. Hirth noted that jersey sales were still brisk despite some lackluster seasons thanks to adding Harbaugh’s number and the school going from Adidas back to Nike and then to the Jordan brand.
It has been suggested that boosters guaranteeing to buy a player’s jersey would be one way to cheat. If it comes through the customized program instead of on the rack, though, it would be virtually impossible to do that. If hundreds of orders came from one person for one player, The M Den, as a partner of the school, would likely tell the school about the order.