An Interview With WHOOP CEO Will Ahmed About Its NFL Players Association Deal

NFL & WHOOP Partnership
 NFL

WHOOP, best known for its “WHOOP Strap,” announced on August 10 that it was officially named as the official, licensed recovery wearable for the National Football League Players Association (NFLPA). Last week, I spoke to WHOOP CEO Will Ahmed about what I consider a cutting-edge partnership developed between both companies, and I wanted to write about our discussion. 

CEO Will Ahmed, featured in Fortune Magazine’s 40-under-40 in September, started by saying he thinks the partnership is already opening many opportunities with the NFL. He continued, saying that many of the trainers and players are contacting WHOOP, such as the LGPA, Professional Lacrosse League, and more, are telling him how much it has become reliant on the tech, especially during a time like this with Covid-19.     

With individual sport leagues teams reaching out to the company, I feel that Ahmed and the rest of the team are finding creative solutions and ideas to amplify exposure throughout the NFL on a team level. Ahmed says, “WHOOP has been experiencing pretty incredible growth. The NFLPA safety guidelines are recommending every player to be wearing a monitor that collects data like heart rate variability and respiratory rate and have those metrics be third party validated. Of course, WHOOP is the only product to do this. In some, it is a combination of long-term partnership and an important need for health monitoring in a world of Covid-19”. 

Following recent efforts by WHOOP to support a healthy return to sports for organizations ranging from the PGA and LPGA Tours to the Premier Lacrosse League and the University of Tennessee, the NFLPA is providing WHOOP Straps 3.0 to all active NFL players.   

Being the only recovery wearable specializing in respiratory rate, I feel WHOOP is an innovative performance and recovery wearable brand with the ability to specialize in heart rate, sleep, strain, and for the first of its kind, respiratory rate. Ahmed’s fitness wearable, the WHOOP Strap, has been popular for years with enthusiasts, not to mention elite athletes like Super Bowl-winning quarterback Patrick Mahomes, MVP award-winner Lebron James and Olympian Michael Phelps, among many more skilled players. The precision wellness device—which collects and analyzes physiological data around the clock to track an individual’s performance, recovery, and sleep—has also emerged as an essential health-monitoring tool in pandemic times.   

Let’s dive deeper into the multiyear partnership between WHOOP and the NFLPA.  

The Partnership 

Patrick Mahomes Superbowl MVP
 WHOOP

The Boston-based company will be providing each NFL player a WHOOP 3.0. From my discussion with Ahmed, it is clear to me this multiyear deal could bring the recovery performance technology company to many sport leagues and not just in the NFL. As of now, WHOOP is the only company with the ability to give respiratory metrics in recovery technology that could ensure that consumers and players enhance their experience to check performance metrics 24/7 – which will likely spark growth in those industries as well. According to Mensjournal.com, WHOOP specifically wanted first to introduce the wearable to pro and Olympic athletes to build marketplace credibility and differentiate the band amid an excess of other products in the recovery market. It also created a root source of publicity for the now eight-year-old company.  

Ahmed said in our discussion, “If it weren’t for WHOOP, for example, Nick Watney from the PGA, wouldn’t have known he had Covid-19. He saw an elevated respiratory rate on WHOOP two days after testing negative. The PGA cleared him to play in the tournament, but unfortunately, he went to the doctors and told them to test him again. The physicians told rejected, but Nick insisted. Ahmed continues, “He ended up testing positive and then being able to quarantine. That showed the power of WHOOP at this moment in time. If you can measure things, you cannot feel, that gives you a considerable advantage and so the PGA tour carries over a 1,000 WHOOP straps and putting them on every PGA tour. LPGA followed up immediately after that, as did the professional Lacrosse league after that, so it has everyone wearing WHOOP there. The University of Tennessee announced that it put WHOOP on every student-athlete, and we expect many colleges to follow closely after that, and of course, the NFLPA announced that this week.” I believe that the recovery wearable is gaining momentum among both elite college athletes and pros alike, especially during Covid-19.   

You can learn more about Nick Watney’s Covid-19 story from the official WHOOP Podcast here.   

Birthed from Harvard’s Innovation Lab, Whoop has recently made the crossover from professional to amateur sports in the last couple of years. Correctly optimizing your performance, whether you are a marathoner, triathlete, or going over to SoccerZone for your weekly game, is where wearable recovery device WHOOP comes in. How did WHOOP become the official recovery partner of the NFLPA? Like the multiyear partnership with Hyperice and the NBA, I feel that the NFL is consistently unlocking new ways to bring in the foreign concept of ‘recovery’ to innovate, not just the company but to change and improve its players for the better, especially during the pandemic.  

The NFLPA is on the lookout for like-minded companies to partner alongside – “the NFLPA and WHOOP have been partners in some sense since 2016.” said Ahmed. He continues, “The NFLPA put out a competition for wearables technology and various technology companies applied to that, and there were over 500 applicants. We went to go pitch to the NFLPA, which I believe was during the Superbowl, and a bunch of NFL players and the board of the NFLPA and WHOOP ultimately won that competition, and what was important about that is that we also we won the rights the athlete’s data. So, the NFLPA and the NFL negotiate everything through collective bargaining agreements that gave NFLPA all the rights to help data and sensors. So, if a coach or an owner wants to put a fence around an NFL player, they must go through the NFLPA and get approval. The NFLPA was the gatekeeper to the NFL players, and so they wanted to see how they could leverage those rights, and they ultimately partnered with WHOOP and invested in WHOOP. Over time we have been building on the relationship and working to understand health monitoring better, and with Covid-19 this year, it became evident to the NFLPA and WHOOP that there was an opportunity to do something big this year. So that is where you saw the recent announcement would be on every NFL player, and WHOOP is now part of the NFLPA’ back-to-work protocol’ to put in place with the NFL.”   

As this excitement spreads through the millions of NFLPA followers on social media, players and consumers can connect on a whole new level. What does this partnership mean? It means you are going to see NFL players, personal trainers, and coaches wearing WHOOP straps 24/7 on and off the field – “[even] staff, caddies, and media members in the PGA and LPGA,” Said Ahmed.   

“I’ve had my WHOOP for months, and I love it,” said Patrick Mahomes, Super Bowl MVP said in the WHOOP and NFLPA official press release. “Heading into the 2020 season and with everything going on in the world, WHOOP has helped me understand my training and health in a new way. WHOOP can support the entire league’s efforts in getting back to work – we want to play and do so safely.”   

Like Patrick Mahomes, more and more players and “average Joes” are consuming and connecting with WHOOP and, in general, sports. Even more now, due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The NFLPA sees this as an opportunity to innovate and enhance its platform by partnering up with not only mature companies but for startups that will provide a new way to receive player analytics and innovate the company. Giving players and consumers content related to not only the measure of only heart rate like with the Apple Watch but also sleep performance, heart rate variability, and active recovery.    

In turn, I believe it will lead to general consumer awareness of wearable recovery technology devices that WHOOP has to offer its players and consumers. This, which awareness should spark curiosity for anyone who watches the NFL, PGA, LPGA, and many other sports leagues to learn more about the importance of this light-weight wearable device. The partnership is an exciting and momentous time for WHOOP and the wellness of all NFL players and former players alike.    

With regards to sponsorships, I could not find any information if WHOOP had planned on sponsoring players, teams, or even attending summits to show exposure among e-sport players, influencers, and other like-minded gamers. For those that follow me, you know that many of my articles cover the video game industry. I asked CEO Will Ahmed the following that I would love to see WHOOP worn by a sponsored player or an entire sports league in a game like PGA Tour 2k21, which was released earlier in August, or Madden NFL 21, with the ability to see the players heart rate throughout out the AI and UI in-game.   

Ahmed said, “Relating more to e-sports, I know as of 2019, e-sports made over 1.1 billion dollars, and it is continuously growing at a rapid rate. As of 2012 [Year WHOOP was founded], the e-sports market was minimal and not so much sought after and made around $130 million and snowballing. With crucial brands tapping into the market, I feel that it would be more saturated to try and monetize the popularity of e-sports and perhaps seeing where WHOOP can come into play there. For example, some of these e-sport players are training 8-12 hours a day playing video games. They can have repetitive eye strain, which I am sure may be difficult to find the analytics in that, but I am curious to see if WHOOP could do something around revolving around gamers; picking up things like carpal tunnel syndrome, back and neck pain, high blood pressure among other major health issues.”   

As of now, WHOOP plans to be very active on Twitch and invests through the platform in several ways. You will see advertising, esports, and some non-traditional plays rolling out this fall and winter. As of now, there are no other wearables in the esports space, and WHOOP is looking to take advantage of the new audience and opportunity this presents.  

Wrapping up 

The WHOOP Strap appears to be rising in popularity, and I believe, getting the credit it has always deserved. The news is undoubtedly exciting for NFL fans.  

I believe with this announcement is a reflection about how technology is transforming so many aspects of the sports world and humankind, being the first time, a sports association has partnered with a wearable technology company. With the emergence of exciting innovations alongside the NFL’s partnership, it will be fascinating to see how wearable recovery technology develops. As companies like WHOOP continue to tailor to the preferences of players, former players, and individual consumers alike, I think precision technology will become a more integral part of people’s lives sooner than we expect. One thing that seems inevitable is that precision technology and recovery may never be the same again. 

 Note: Moor Insights & Strategy writers and editors may have contributed to this article.