There’s much we don’t know about the reported deals between Fanatics and the major sports leagues to corral the bulk of the sports trading card market. I think we can safely assume, though, that what’s going to happen won’t be just a swap of distribution models and a logo change or two.
With the leagues and players having reportedly captured a stake of the potential profits, it seems like there is almost certainly going to be much more to the story. The exploding interest and unprecedented prices that high-end, graded modern era cards are commanding through auctions and private sales is certainly not lost on the players– or the commissioners who had to believe trading card licenses had to be worth more than they were a few years ago.
When players look at eBay and see prices for their cards, volunteer a response on social media or get asked about it at a news conference, the natural reaction in a realm where money is a driving force undoubtedly “where’s my cut?”
Those words might not be spoken publicly but when a player’s face and signature is on a card he was paid a relative pittance to sign for Topps or Panini, you can bet wheels were already in motion for trying to figure out a way to get a bigger cut of the action.
This is likely the vehicle that will get it to them.
Don’t be surprised if the “card division” Fanatics and the leagues are creating will be designed as a one stop shop for buying and selling not just boxes but single cards. Maybe auctioning them… or even grading and authenticating them.
In the current model, current licensees Panini and Topps (and Upper Deck) are in the business of selling what they make. Their contracts with the players and leagues involve what are essentially flat fees to each. Once a certain product is designed, created, printed and sold, it’s on to the next.
In the current landscape, buying boxes is nearly always done through a secondary source that collects your money. Packs are opened. The best cards are sent away for grading through another company. Yet another entity collects fees for selling them for you.
In a Fanatics world, the life of a card may just flow through them with fees collected at each stop—all going into their already deep pockets—and shared with leagues and players.
Will that mean Fanatics, worth $18 billion—way more than any powerhouse company in the hobby—is looking to gobble up some existing businesses as the means to an end? Are there already deals in place?
It bears watching, but it seems inevitable that Fanatics will be expanding their capacity to do stuff other than sell cards directly from their website or buy some card companies for a couple of billion dollars. They certainly have the money to make big things happen. Big things and new things. The financial commitment being made and the size and importance of these partnerships would lead us to believe the aims are large in size and scope.
I’m not writing about this as if it’s all bad news. It could be great if the hobby’s best interests are served and being a collector becomes more efficient and fun when it’s all said and done. I’m not even saying it’s all a slam dunk, but logic and recent developments just seem to indicate there will be much more to come.