NFLPA Shuts Topps Out

Consolidation of the trading card industry may have left Topps at the football card altar after this season.

Topps’ 53 year-run as a maker of pro football trading cards took a major blow Monday when Beckett Media reported the NFL Players Association had decided not to issue a license to the company in 2010.

The move would leave only Upper Deck and Panini with deals to produce cards carrying the NFLPA’s blessing. It is the latest major move in an industry rocked by a push toward contraction of the market at the hands of leagues and licensees.

While Upper Deck recently lost its Major League Baseball license, the company still maintains its deal with the MLBPA. The company recently announced that it would continue its baseball line in 2010 despite the inability to use team logos and other trademarks. Losing the NFLPA would seem to force Topps into a situation where it would have to make individual arrangements with some of the league’s players should it wish to continue producing NFL cards.

Topps has offered some kind of pro football set every season since 1956. The company made AFL cards only in 1964, 1965, 1966 and 1967 as Philadelphia Gum enjoyed a brief run as exclusive manufacturer before fading from the scene. Since returning to the NFL in 1968, Topps has been a constant partner with what is generally regarded as the nation’s most popular sport.

Topps produces two of the NFL card market’s most popular brands, Chrome and Finest, using technology that collectors seemed to appreciate.

Talk of a possible contraction in NFL trading cards has been going on for several months, heating up as the NBA and MLB changed the landscape by cutting the number of official products. In a challenging economic environment magnified by the ongoing issue of marketplace confusion because of the large number of brands produced, the move isn’t a total surprise.

"The news that the NFLPA cut down to two licensees was expected," said Thomas Fish of online retailer Blowout Cards late Monday night. "The marketplace is saturated. What is most surprising was that the Topps Company lost its license. Since being informed of the news, most collectors on our forum are upset and Chrome, among other Topps brands, will surely be missed in 2010."

The end of Topps’ run as a partner could be seen as a disruption of tradition that could potentially alienate some collectors.

"I certainly hope that Upper Deck and Panini can produce innovative football cards next year and that the those products can inspire a new generation of collectors," said Fish. "I also hope that current Topps football collectors do not abandon the hobby because the industry can not afford to lose any more buyers."

Players Inc’s NFL trading card agreements with Panini, Topps and Upper Deck are set to expire after this season.

Topps football cards on eBay