The Donruss Company originated as a candy manufacturer in the 1950’s. By the 1960’s the company started producing entertainment themed trading cards. Rival company Fleer, sued the Topps company in the mid-seventies alleging a monopoly over the baseball card market. The court found in favor of Fleer and as a result Donruss quickly negotiated a deal in the winter of 1980 in time for the release of it’s first officially licensed MLB trading card set for the 1981 season.
Mergers and Acquisitions
No other company or brand in the history of the trading card market has changed hands more than Donruss. From 1983 to 2009, the Donruss brand was acquired by no less than four different entities. While the company name may have changed through out the years, the Donruss brand was utilized extensively in the manufacturing of baseball cards by each of the subsequent companies that had acquired Donruss’ intellectual property; Leaf, Pinnacle, Playoff, and Panini. The last of these ownership changes came in March of 2009 when Italian sticker manufacturer, Panini acquired the then Donruss Playoff L.P. company along with all of their licensing. The new company was named and continues today, to operate as Panini America.
One of the most significant contributions the Donruss brand made to the baseball card market was through the use of incorporating original art into their products. The creation of the Diamond Kings insert set utilized world-renowned sports artist Dick Perez to create full color portraits of the games top players. These prints were reproduced and randomly inserted into packs. Collectors quickly embraced this new innovation and eagerly chased every card in the quest to complete the entire set. Coinciding with this innovation was the introduction of trading card puzzle pieces that when assembled, produced a mini-poster sized depiction of legendary greats, also created by Dick Perez. Through the years, the Diamond Kings name has seen itself manifested in various forms including their own self-branded set in the early 2000’s.
Market Forces and Licensing Changes
The overproduction that plagued the entire trading card industry during the early ‘90’s contributed significantly to the company’s early growing pains. This factor coupled with the lost baseball season of 1994, resulted in a significant decrease in sales. In an attempt to help counter these market conditions and ebb the continued loss of sales revenue, Donruss acquired the rights to produce NHL trading cards. Unfortunately, the timing of the acquisition worked against Donruss as the NHL faced their own work stoppage resulting in a significantly decreased demand for hockey cards. In 1996 the Donruss brand was also used in the production of NFL trading cards. Later, in 2005, Major League Baseball made significant changes to its licensing requirements and as a result only two existing companies had those rights renewed with Donruss Playoff L.P. being left off of the list.
In 2007, despite not having a license to produce official MLB trading cards, the Donruss name was used in the release of a product called Donruss Elite Extra Edition. Donruss was able to circumvent licensing restrictions through the use of creative photography, airbrushing, and depicting players in their high school and college uniforms. Despite the desire by MLB and its player’s association to curtail the number of prospect centric products in the market, collectors eagerly pursued the newly configured brand.
When Donruss Playoff became Panini America, the company’s brand managers, across multiple sports, committed to maintain the company’s heritage and revived the Donruss name in hockey, basketball and football. Today, numerous brands bear the Donruss moniker. Only time will tell how the brand will be further utilized to create the nostalgia so coveted by collectors.
Donruss Card Sets
Browse our database of Donruss card sets, which feature product reviews, set checklists, expert analysis, price comparisons, and more.