Big changes are on the horizon for the hobby based on the news that Fanatics has reached an agreement with Major League Baseball (MLB) to produce cards, ending Topps' exclusive. The apparel company also reportedly has card deals in place with the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA), the National Basketball Association (NBA), the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA), and the NFL Players Association (NFLPA). Each group holds equity in the new Fanatics card company.
The shocking development marks a big shift as all three professional card licenses are currently exclusives. Topps holds the MLB/MLBPA license and Panini holds the MLBPA, NBA/NBPA and NFL/NFLPA licenses.
The Wall Street Journal reported that the Fanatics-MLB talks have been ongoing for months, but Topps was only officially informed on Thursday (August 19), when the news broke. The MLBPA has already passed along early details to players about the arrangement, which is 10 times larger than any previous deal for the union.
Topps, the dominant player in baseball cards, was moving swiftly toward going public unaware that its longtime partners in baseball were secretly being courted by Fanatics https://t.co/1ruWjpkbcw
— The Wall Street Journal (@WSJ) August 21, 2021
Topps, the iconic baseball card producer since 1951, had made plans to go public via special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) Mudrick II, but this was quickly terminated following the news about the Fanatics deals.
Despite the sudden shift of power, these changes won't take place immediately. Fanatics' MLBPA deal reportedly starts in 2023 and Topps' MLB exclusive goes through 2025, leaving a period of uncertainty as to exactly how Topps will proceed during the overlap. Meanwhile, the Panini NBPA deal ends in 2025 and Panini's NFLPA deal finishes in 2026.
However, once Fanatics takes over, it seems that the licenses aren't going anywhere for a long time as the NFLPA deal reportedly lasts for 20 years.
NFL Players Association is leaving Panini and signing a 20-year trading cards deal with Fanatics starting in 2026, per sources. And so the NFLPA is now joining MLB/MLBPA and NBA/NBPA in a new Fanatics trading cards company. All parties will have equity stakes in the new venture.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) August 25, 2021
According to Sportico, the to-be-determined Fanatics card company will be run by Josh Luber. Collectors might recognize Luber as the co-founder and former CEO of StockX, a sneaker reselling website.
Per CNBC, "Fanatics’ plan for the physical trading card space is to expand it by opening the market to leverage it more via direct-to-consumer offerings, according to people familiar with the matter. For example, should collectors purchase a trading card, they’ll be able to insure the asset, grade, store and even put them on a marketplace to sell or trade — all through Fanatics."
Already a major sports apparel retailer, Fanatics has gotten into sports memorabilia in recent years, including signing many player exclusives. Michael Rubin, the majority owner of Fanatics' parent company (Kynetic), is also the co-owner of the Philadelphia 76ers and New Jersey Devils.