Topps’ 60-year run of producing football cards is indeed coming to an end. Panini America and the NFL announced a “long term” exclusive partnership Thursday, with the deal starting next spring.
Panini will be the only company making physical cards and sticker products starting early next spring. Topps, which has produced pro football trading cards since 1956, will retain its license for producing digital cards through its Topps Huddle app. Panini will also produce digital cards via its Gridiron program.
“This announcement symbolizes a landmark achievement for Panini America, and we are extremely proud to be awarded the exclusive license for traditional trading cards and stickers,” said Panini America CEO Mark Warsop in a news release. “We are committed to continue building compelling products that honor and celebrate the NFL and look forward to working closely with the NFL to continue to grow the football trading card category in the U.S. and globally.”
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 or exactly how many years the deal will be in place.
The exclusive deal means Panini America will also be able to market around the NFL’s marquee events including the NFL Combine, NFL Draft, NFL Kickoff and Super Bowl. The exclusive will kick in just prior to the 2016 draft in April.
“We are pleased to expand our partnership with Panini America in order to better serve NFL fans, from children opening their first packs to long-time hobby collectors. Since entering the U.S. market in 2009, they have proven to be leaders in product development, innovation and marketing, and we look forward to working together to continue to grow the football trading card category,” said Leo Kane, a Senior Vice President for Consumer Products with the NFL.
Exclusive deals are now the norm among all four major pro sports leagues. Panini is adding its NFL deal to an existing exclusive with the NBA. Topps has MLB locked up through 2020 and Upper Deck became the NHL’s lone partner after the league decided to drop Panini in 2014. 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 few months.
Topps was actually 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.
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