Michigan football players first to cash in on jersey sales

Much of the outside push that has allowed college athletes to capitalize on their name, image and likeness has come from shouting about video games and jersey sales.

But when college athletes started cashing in on July 1, the money didn’t come from those two areas. In the absence of a group licensing agreement, Electronic Arts would have to start signing on a player-by-player basis and with jersey sales it was thought this would require an agreement between the school and the players, which would strengthen a business partnership open that schools wouldn’t be comfortable with.

Step into The M Den, the University of Michigan’s officially licensed retailer that bills itself as one of the nation’s largest licensed college stores. On Friday, The M Den tweeted that, for the first time, it was offering fans the right to get player names on the back of their Michigan football shirts.

“Before the Ed O’Bannon case, we could do player numbers on the back,” said M Den owner Scott Hirth. “When it was Denard Robinson, we could make No. 16s in the store. After O’Bannon, we could only do number 1 and the year.

When Jim Harbaugh arrived as coach, Nike and The M Den began selling number 4, Harbaugh’s old number, but without his name on the back.

The deal is not with the school. It’s 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 from this year’s roster have signed deals and are available to order. Hirth said The M Den was assisted by Valiant Management, a division of the Valiant brand, a line offered exclusively at The M Den. When the name, image and likeness began, owners Jared and John Wangler, who last quarterbacked at Michigan from 1976-1980, sprang into action and helped The M Den garner player approval. for licenses.

Each jersey must be individually customized by online or in-store order, which means there will be no particular player’s jerseys hanging on the rack. These jerseys will cost $120 for iron-on names and numbers and $180 to sew them.

In the past, it was assumed that if this happened, players would get at best 6% of the wholesale price of the jersey. In this case it would be $3.60 or $5.40 depending on wholesale prices of $60 and $90. But Hirth said The M Den wanted to do better.

Hirth didn’t reveal the exact percentage, but he said each player would get the same percentage multiplied by the number of shirts they sold. Each jersey will be over $10.

“We wanted to do our best for these players,” Hirth said. “Yes, we are a for-profit company, but we are partners of the school.”

Hirth added that players would likely make more money per shirt than The M Den.

Whether other retailers from other schools will follow, with no school involvement, remains to be seen, but The M Den had it all.

It is an official school dealer, so it has the right to use the university marks with the names of the players. They are also an official Nike stockist, which means they have the right to take blank jerseys and customize them.

Having names available should increase jersey sales over previous limited options of only a few numbers and no names on the back. Hirth noted that jersey sales were still buoyant despite some lackluster seasons thanks to the addition of Harbaugh’s number and the school moving from Adidas to Nike and then to the Jordan brand.

Boosters guaranteeing to buy a player’s jersey have been suggested as a way of cheating. If it goes through the custom program rather than the rack, it would be nearly impossible to do. If hundreds of orders came from one person for one player, The M Den, as a school partner, would likely notify the school of the order.

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Neal T. Doss