Professional football players are brands unto themselves — with their likenesses or names adorning everything from ball caps to mobile apps to toys. Now, a Seattle startup by the name of Playmark is looking to serve as the online broker of this “athlete economy,” providing a simple way for game developers, retailers and others to get licensing rights to the likenesses and autographs of more than 2,000 players.

That means you can now easily create that iPhone you’ve always wanted to with quarterback Aaron Rodgers or running back Adrian Peterson. In fact, Playmark allows users to license some 200 head scans of NFL players from the Madden Football game. You also can get rights to images, illustrations and digital autographs from players.

“Our partnership with Playmark makes it possible for thousands of app and game developers, independent artists, agencies and businesses of all sizes to gain immediate access to the intellectual property rights of NFL players,” said Keith Gordon, president of the NFL Players. “Our players can’t wait to see what today’s creative designers and developers can dream up.”  Bloomberg reports that NFL Players licensed $78 million worth of merchandise last year.

Playmark's collection includes access to more than 2,000 player autographs

Playmark sprung from the minds of Erik Bergsagel, a startup consultant who attended the University of Washington business school, and George Aposporos, the former vice president of business development at Amazon.com. Founded late last year, Playmark now employs nine people. It is backed with more than $2 million from the NFL Players as well as private investors. Aposporos declined to name investors in the company, but noted that the NFL Players made a sizable commitment to the idea.

Aposporos was introduced to the NFL Players Association through mutual friends in Washington D.C. where the players group is based and Aposporos attended high school.

“They were trying to take a fresh look at how to light up revenue for players,” said Aposporos, who initially consulted with the player’s group before forming a new company around the concept. He said the idea behind Playmark is to lower the barriers to entry and accelerate the time of market for small businesses that never would have imagined they could do business with NFL Players.

“Hopefully, we will enable a lot of creative businesses to blossom,” Aposporos tells GeekWire. “And long-term, of course, we hope to increase the share of sports-related merchandise that goes to players.”

Developers and designers who use NFL images or autographs from Playmark can earn up to 70 percent to 91 percent on each sale of the player-oriented products. That royalty rate varies depending upon how much upfront cash developers or merchandisers are willing to pay.

So far, the company has helped broker licensing deals with the StarStreet athlete marketplace and Playdom’s social networking game ESPN Sports Bar in which players get to outfit a virtual sports bar.

The NFL Players Association reserves the right to approve all products moving through the Playmark system.

The company said it will investigate partnerships with players’ associations in other sports, including the National Basketball Association and Major League Baseball.

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