When they came seemingly out of nowhere to buy Donruss/Playoff and grab an NBA license in 2009, Panini vowed to make an impact on the North American trading card market. The goal? Have a presence in all four major sports. They accomplished that on Thursday, announcing an agreement with the MLB Player’s Association on a trading card license with Texas Rangers’ star Josh Hamilton as the pitchman. The deal allows Panini to use the names and images of big leaguers on its future baseball products, something they’ve been missing since MLB pulled the Donruss license in 2005.
The one thing they can’t do is use team logos and trademarks and you can bet Topps will be watching to make sure that rule isn’t violated. Topps’ exclusive deal with MLB had them dragging Upper Deck to court last year after the California card maker seemingly violated Topps’ rights by using pictures Topps said weren’t legal by trademark standards.
Donruss had a loyal following during the latter stages of its baseball card license and you can bet the company will go all out with autographs, inserts and familiar card concepts when it brings its products to market beginning later this year. However, it’s not easy to sell a non-league licensed product to the die-hard collector, who generally wants his company of choice to be not only official, but able to utilize pictures without graphic designers getting heavily involved in eliminating cap logos and jersey markings. Initial online reaction to the cards on display at Thursday’s press conference weren’t favorable, even if some collectors were hoping it was the first step in a full-fledged return to the mainstream card market for the Texas-based company.
Maybe at some point, the company will convince MLB to return its license. Until that time, Panini will have to be very creative.
The larger question might be ‘can the hobby support–or does it even want–more new products. With an average of 3-4 new issues each month, it’s still a crowded marketplace despite the league-induced attrition that has taken place over the last several years. Adding more brands might give shop owners something else to sell throughout the course of a year, but whether it’s good for the hobby as a whole is up for debate.