If you once thought there would be a peaceful transition of power from Panini America to Fanatics, think again.
Just 17 days after Panini filed an antitrust suit against Fanatics over its lame duck licensing deals for trading cards with pro leagues and athletes, the NFL Players Association’s licensing and marketing arm distributed a letter to player agents stating it had decided to “terminate” its deal with Panini three years ahead of schedule and handed its license to Fanatics.
“Effective immediately, Fanatics has the exclusive right to make NFLPA-branded trading cards,” the letter reads, according to a tweet from national NFL reporter Ari Meirov.
The reasons for their move weren’t immediately made public.
Fanatics filed a countersuit against Panini just days after receiving the antitrust suit and it’s possible what was contained in that suit may have spurred action by NFL Players Inc., the union’s division focused on marketing and licensing its players.
Panini responded through its legal counsel early Tuesday morning, stating “We believe this was a totally unwarranted and improper action by the NFL Players Association in conjunction with Fanatics, especially in light of the unprecedented sales by Panini of NFL trading cards. Panini has grown the category of sports trading cards by over 1,000 percent since 2009, to the benefit of all concerned. We believe the only party who benefits from this action by the NFL Players Association is Fanatics, not the players, the leagues or consumers. We note that in addition to the NFL Players Association license, Panini has licenses with the NFL and over 360 individual players. Panini will honor all of its contractual obligations.”
In 2021, Fanatics acquired future licensing rights for Major League Baseball, the NBA and NFL. The company also purchased the Topps Company and has been making baseball cards under the Topps brand since the deal was consummated.
According to Fanatics’ countersuit, it had been in discussions with Panini about buying the company but those talks went nowhere after Fanatics says Panini provided inaccurate financial information.
There was no immediate word from either the NFLPA or Fanatics about when the two sides intend to produce cards of NFL players. There would need to be a contract in place with the NFL for Fanatics to use league and team names and logos.
The NFLPA letter leads to a multitude of questions such as whether it can force Panini to immediately stop distribution of its NFLPA branded products that are set for release in the coming days, how quickly Fanatics could begin to create and distribute NFLPA branded products, what will happen with collectors’ outstanding football card redemptions with Panini and whether NFL Players Inc. actually has the legal right to end its relationship with Panini before the expiration of the deal that was in place. Certainly, NFLPA lawyers feel they do.
Some NFL players have endorsement deals in place with Panini that include their appearances on boxes and packages and the NFLPA stated it won’t attempt to interfere with those contracts.
“This decision has no impact on any individual Players’ contractual agreement(s) with Panini,” the letter reads. “If you represent any Player(s) with an existing Panini agreement, the NFLPA recommends that you encourage the Player(s) to fulfill his contractual commitments to Panini.”
Thus far, Fanatics hasn’t commented on the letter, which Meirov reported was emailed to agents late Monday afternoon.
Panini’s NBA licenses are currently set to expire in 2025.