Friday, July 26, 2013

Quasi-Property in NFL Jersey Numbers

The NFL has a very complicated system of assigning jersey numbers.  More or less, players in certain positions can only be issued numbers within certain ranges.  Punters, for example, must choose a number between 1 and 19.  Here's the full chart:

Screen Shot 2013-07-25 at 11.07.41 PM

From a property perspective, what's interesting about all this is that once a player chooses their number, NFL teams seem to recognize that the players have something like a property right over their selections. 

For example, if a player is drafted by a team and he wants a number that is already being worn by another, the newcomer would need to negotiate with the current "owner" for the right to wear his preferred digits.  Sometimes thousands of dollars change hands.  Here's one story:

When Donovan McNabb arrived in Minnesota before the 2011 season, his No. 5 was being occupied by veteran punter Chris Kluwe. Instead of wearing a different number for the first time in his NFL career, McNabb engaged Kluwe in negotiations for the No. 5. Kluwe responded with some interesting requests. According to Marc Sessler of, McNabb had to donate $5,000 to Kluwe's charity, Kick for a Cure, mention Kluwe's amateur band in a news conference and buy the punter an ice cream cone to get the No. 5. McNabb agreed on the terms and was given the No. 5. He eventually made good on the donation, and also name-dropped the band on a few occasions. The fulfillment of the ice cream portion of the payment is currently unknown. 

At least one dispute has ended up in court.  "Washington Redskins running back Clinton Portis agreed to pay defensive back Ifeanyi Ohalete $40,000 for the No. 26. Ohalete agreed, and Portis donned his favorite number during his stint in Washington.  However, the deal turned sour once Ohalete was released from the Redskins the next August. According to Ohalete, Portis stopped payment of the deal at $20,000.  Ohalete eventually sued, and Portis was forced to pay $18,000 of the remaining $20,000 balance."

Steve Clowney

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