MLB Makes Topps Exclusive Official Card Maker

Major League Baseball has confirmed that it has reached agreement on a multi-year deal that will make Topps its trading card partner.

For the first time since 1980, the Topps company will have exclusive rights to produce baseball cards with Major League Baseball logos and trademarks.

Major League Baseball Properties (MLBP) and the Topps Company, the leading creator and marketer of sports cards, today announced an exclusive multi-year licensing deal to make Topps the Official Baseball Card of Major League Baseball. Topps will have exclusivity on MLB, Jewel Event and Club trademarks, logos and other intellectual property, for use on baseball cards, stickers and certain other product categories featuring MLB players. Topps’ exclusivity begins on January 1, 2010.

Topps will become the first exclusive baseball card company of MLB in nearly 30 years, as the company looks to expand its ongoing efforts to invigorate the category, continue launching ground-breaking products, improve the retail and collecting experience and make cards more relevant to children. Topps’ first exclusive product will be its 2010 Topps Baseball Series 1 to be unveiled next February.

“Generations of baseball fans have grown more connected to the game through collecting baseball cards,” said Baseball Commissioner Allan H. (Bud) Selig. “We look forward to partnering with Topps to restore baseball cards as the game’s premiere collectable.”

“Topps has over the years clearly distinguished itself as the leader in the industry and the best brand in the business,” said Howard Smith, Senior Vice President, Licensing, Major League Baseball Properties. “This exclusive agreement with Topps follows similar arrangements in other categories that have resulted in superior products for fans and in turn unprecedented business success.”

Michael Eisner and The Tornante Company, a private investment company he founded in 2005, acquired The Topps Company, Inc. in 2007 along with Madison Dearborn Partners, LLC.

“We are looking forward to working closely with MLB Properties and its Clubs to invest in innovation and creativity to bring baseball cards and other collectible items to new audiences for many years to come,” said Eisner.

“Topps has been making baseball cards for over 50 years and signed our first agreement with Major League Baseball Properties in 1969,” said Topps CEO and President Scott Silverstein. “Now, 40 years later, we are delighted to be taking this relationship to new heights.”

The news is a blow to Upper Deck, which has been producing baseball cards each year since its 1989 debut and recently lost its NBA license to Panini.

However, Upper Deck recently renewed its license with the Major League Baseball Players Association. Topps’ deal with MLB will prevent Upper Deck from utilizing team logos and trademarks but won’t prevent the company from using player likenesses. It’s likely UD will have to get creative in much the same way Donruss has with its baseball card releases. Donruss, now under the control of Panini, lost its MLB license after the 2005 season. MLB filed suit against Donruss over its baseball card products earlier this year.

Both Topps and MLB are attempting to grow the trading card business, which Topps’ CEO Michael Eisner said “causes confusion to the kid who walks into a Wal-Mart or hobby store” because of the number of licensed products still on the shelf.

“There is a greater chance of organizing the marketplace with a singular partner,” said Tim Brosnan, Baseball’s executive vice-president for business.

Topps said it plans to be “very aggressive” in its marketing campaign, especially toward kids who Eisner believes are still interested in collecting.

How the new deal will impact hobby stores could be a prickly situation. Shops have come to rely on new products being released on a regular basis, spurring otherwise sluggish sales. Fewer products and little competition within the sport could mean fewer customers.

Exclusive deals have become vogue in pro sports, however, with Panini set to become the sole maker of basketball cards this coming season and Upper Deck holding the cards in the National Hockey League.

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