In 2021, sports e-commerce company Fanatics acquired the rights to produce licensed trading cards from three of America’s major sports leagues: Major League Baseball (MLB), the National Football League (NFL), and the National Basketball Association (NBA). This put a major damper on the current leaders of the sports card industry, Topps and Panini. While Topps deal with MLB would continue to run until 2025, the clock was ticking on the famous baseball trading card producer. Now, as of January 3, 2022, they will have to worry about their brand no longer. Fanatics purchased the entire Topps sports and entertainment division for $500 million. The candy and gift card line of Topps will continue on its own privately and separately.
Of course, Fanatics can easily afford this deal, as the company was valued at $18 billion in September 2021. While it may seem like a sellout for Topps, it’s actually a good thing for the Topps brand as a whole. Not only will Topps’ dip into NFTs continue under the Fanatics umbrella, but Topps will once again be able to also produce licensed NBA and NFL cards. As sports card collectors love the Topps Chrome and Bowman brands, and certainly have missed them for several years as Panini became the exclusive creator of cards for those leagues, there’s a lot to be excited about for basketball and football card fans.
Not only has Panini been controversial in recent years, but for collectors like me who go out of our way to buy Topps products over Panini, this is the best news we could’ve gotten. It seemed like Fanatics was going to produce their own trading card brand, and it was unclear how that was going to proceed. Thankfully, they are going to use the existing brand and frameworks that Topps already has, making the transition to a Fanatics-led sports card world rather seamless from the consumer end of things.
Plus, Fanatics taking over Topps fits in perfectly with their focus on a direct-to-consumer model. Topps and Panini have already been doing print-on-demand card products, of course, but Fanatics promises to take that to another level. Not only will you be able to purchase a card from Fanatics, but you’ll also be able to insure, grade, store, and even trade that cardboard asset all in one place.
With the sports trading card business projected to reach $98.7 billion by 2027, Fanatics has positioned themselves perfectly. The big question is what will happen to Panini, a company that has never thrilled me with their products thanks to underwhelming retail-grade products and overpriced hobby-grade products. Finally, once again, you’ll be able to collect NBA and NFL rookie cards through Topps properties, and I for one am absolutely thrilled.
One thing that hasn’t been mentioned in this purchase are Topps non-sports trading card properties, such as their deals with Disney, which include Marvel and Star Wars. It would seem to be the case that these properties will transition over to Fanatics, as well, especially as Fanatics already was considering a trading card line that features A-list celebrities.
For a company that focused on sports apparel for years, Fanatics has moved quickly with its vast investor base to singlehandedly redefine the sports card landscape. From a branding perspective, it’s a brilliant move that should pay massive dividends. Whether they end up becoming a monopoly in the industry is not yet clear, as it will be interesting to see how Panini pivots after also losing their major sports league licenses. Their licenses also end between 2025-2026, so they will still be a main competitor for some time. Personally, I’d say Fanatics buying Topps is a good thing for sports cards, and it will be fascinating to see how things play out over the next five to ten years in a booming hobby.