Topps’ 60-year run of producing football cards is indeed coming to an end.
Beckett Media reported Thursday that Panini has told its distributors they’ll be the only company making physical cards beginning in 2016. Topps will retain its license for producing digital trading cards through its Topps Huddle app.
NFL Players Inc. (NFLPI), the licensing and marketing arm of the NFL Players Association, and Panini America announced in 2014 that the two entities had entered into an exclusive contract for licensed trading cards and stickers.
The agreement didn’t include the NFL Properties license at the time, but it was seen as almost a foregone conclusion that Panini would pay what was necessary to be the sole card provider. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be allowed to use team logos or league trademarks. The exclusive deal with the NFLPA precludes another trading card company from using photos of NFL players. There was no word on what grabbing the licenses may have cost Panini.
The move means exclusive deals are the norm among all four major pro sports leagues. Panini currently enjoys an NBA license, Topps has MLB locked up through 2020 and Upper Deck became the NHL’s lone partner after the league decided to drop Panini last year. Panini also snared licensing for college-related trading card products earlier this year and has been releasing the first of those sets over the last several weeks.
Topps was on the verge of losing its NFL license in 2010 but hung onto it just after Panini replaced Upper Deck as a football card manufacturer.
At a meet and greet session with collectors at the 2014 National Sports Collectors Convention immediately after the Panini announcement, Topps officials indicated they were “disappointed” by the news, but indicated they would continue to produce football products on some level.
“This is a monumental announcement for Panini America and we are honored to have earned this exclusive long-term agreement with NFL Players Inc.,” said Panini America CEO Mark Warsop after the NFLPA announcement last year. “It’s a tremendous honor to be moving forward on an exclusive basis and it will give us greater ability to work together more strategically at growing the football trading card and sticker category.”
Topps’ football license will continue through early 2016 but Panini is expected to begin producing upwards of 30 NFL card products per year under its exclusive deal.