Williams' marketing deals now in limbo

Updated: April 20, 2004, 10:50 AM ET
By Darren Rovell | ESPN.com

USC wide receiver Mike Williams could lose up to $400,000 in marketing deals if he remains ineligible to be drafted by the NFL, according to Steve Rosner, a partner in 16W Marketing.

Rosner's firm was retained by Williams' agent, Mike Azzarelli, to handle the player's off-the-field endeavors.

On Monday, a federal appeals court blocked a lower court ruling that would have made players who are not three years out of high school, including Williams and Ohio State running back Maurice Clarett, eligible for the 2004 draft. The draft is Saturday and Sunday in New York.

Clarett and Williams don't necessarily have to be grouped together. Williams filed a lawsuit Monday seeking an injunction that -- despite the Clarett case ruling -- would allow him to be selected in the draft, according to The New York Times. In the suit, Williams contends that after Clarett won the first round of proceedings, the NFL dropped its eligibility requirements, information which led to Williams turning pro, the newspaper reported.

A few months ago, Williams was permitted to sign the NFL Players Association's Group Licensing Agreement, which pools the rights of the players so that their names and images can be used in conjunction with NFL products such as trading cards and video games.

Williams was told he had to sign the GLA in order for his image to appear with other drafted players in an NFL uniform. Once Williams signed, Rosner and his colleague Bob Philp -- with the aid of the NFL Players Association -- began negotiating deals with the card companies, including Topps, Fleer, Upper Deck and Press Pass. In some contracts, Williams would be a spokesman and could be featured on the products' packaging. Per the union's procedure, all the paperwork on the deals went through the NFLPA.

"It was relayed to me that once Mike Williams signed his GLA, that he would be under all guidelines set forth by the NFLPA," Rosner said. "Based on the system that was currently in place, there was no option for Mike to do his own deals for trading cards in NFL uniform. Licensees whose products use the NFL marks are told that they cannot sign players separately without them having signed the GLA."

A source told ESPN.com that the NFLPA, despite working out the paperwork, might not support Williams given the latest ruling, thus leaving the majority of his deals up in the air -- either until a supplemental draft or until next year, when Williams is eligible for the 2005 draft. After all, it would be hard to argue that Williams is a member of the union if he is not eligible in the draft.

Rosner declined comment and NFLPA officials were not immediately available.

If Williams does not get the injunction and is not allowed to take part in a supplemental draft, an NCAA spokesman told The Times that he could possibly be reinstated as a college player even though he has already hired an agent. Based on a previous precedent involving Tim Dwight, who played football at the University of Iowa, Williams would likely have to return any endorsement money he received because of his prowess as a college player in order to be able to play again.

Williams signed 200 cards for Press Pass, whose 2004 football set is scheduled to be released in hobby stores this week. Since Press Pass features players in their college jerseys and does not use NFL logos, there would be no reason to pull them.

However, the other deals -- which would most likely feature Williams in his pro jersey -- obviously could be impacted if Williams isn't in the NFL this season.

Rosner said Williams' card deals are worth between $175,000 and $200,000, depending on where Williams was drafted.

Williams also signed a deal with Nike, though Rosner said there is traditionally a clause in Nike contracts stipulating that the player has to be on a team roster in order to get paid. Williams' Nike deal is a multiyear deal that would have been among the highest shoe contracts signed by rookies in this year's draft. High-profile offensive position players, aside from quarterbacks, can make in the $100,000-per-year range.

Williams could also expect another $100,000 in regional and local marketing deals.

If Williams does make it onto the field this season by way of the supplemental draft, his deals won't be in such limbo. Yet, Williams' value can still be diminished if he is not drafted in time for the NFL Rookie Premiere, a summer event in which top draft picks get their pictures taken in NFL team uniforms for their trading cards.

The supplemental draft would take place 10 days after a court decision favoring Clarett and Williams is handed down.

Maurice Clarett did not sign the GLA and the only card of him is an Ohio State Buckeyes uniform from HIT 2004 Football, which is produced by a company called SA-GE. The product arrived in most hobby stores on Monday.

"I guess we have him exclusively by default because he signed with us directly and hasn't signed his Group Licensing Agreement," said Tom Geideman, president of the company. "Having a player of the magnitude of Maurice is huge."

Darren Rovell, who covers sports business from ESPN.com, can be reached at Darren.rovell@espn3.com.

Darren Rovell | email

ESPN.com Sports Business reporter

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