NFL Players Inc. (NFLPI), the licensing and marketing arm of the NFL Players Association, and Panini America announced Thursday that the two entities have entered into an exclusive contract that will make Panini America the sole manufacturer of NFLPA-licensed trading cards and collectible stickers beginning with the 2016 NFL season.
The agreement doesn't include the NFL Properties license as yet, but one could reasonably expect that negotiations between Panini and the league will continue in the coming months. Their current arrangement expires in March of 2016. Otherwise, Panini wouldn't be allowed to use team logos or league trademarks. An exclusive deal with the NFLPA, however, would preclude another trading card company from using photos of NFL players.
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 after the recently completed season.
“We feel very confident in Panini America’s ability to deliver quality and value to consumers at all levels, while providing long-term stability to the football trading card category,”said NFLPI President Keith Gordon.“Significant investments in product innovation, quality, authenticity and creative player marketing have endeared Panini to the existing fan base, while actively cultivating the next generation of collectors.”
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 Thursday night, company officials indicated they were "disappointed" by the news, but indicated they would continue to produce football products on some level.
The historic announcement was made during a special luncheon at The Westin in downtown Cleveland featuring ESPN analyst and former NFL quarterback Trent Dilfer, Pro Football Hall of Famer Anthony Muñoz and officials from the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Pop Warner, NFLPI, Panini America and trading card distributors.
“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. “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.”
Panini has exclusive deals with NFLPI, NBA and FIFA World Cup.