Topps may have extended its deal with Major League Baseball but that hasn’t stopped its two former competitors from trying to steal a slice of the baseball card pie. Panini scored a deal with the MLB Players Association last fall and has trotted out a few baseball products without logos to stay within the rules. This week, Upper Deck officials announced they, too, had been granted a license to produce an MLBPA sanctioned line of cards.
2013 Fleer Retro Baseball will be first out of the gate. It’ll be a high end product that showcases some of the signature cards from the Fleer brand’s past. Upper Deck plans a pair of MLBPA releases and a third focusing on retired players (no license needed).
On Tuesday during a gathering of card shop owners and distributors in Las Vegas, Panini announced it had stolen Stephen Strasburg’s autograph away from Topps with a multi-year agreement. The deal grants Panini America the exclusive rights to produce autographed cards of Strasburg, who led the Washington Nationals to the NL East title and their first postseason berth last year before being shut down to preserve an arm injury suffered in 2011.
Panini America’s first Strasburg autograph cards will appear in the April release of its MLBPA-licensed 2012 Prizm Baseball product and will feature Strasburg in his USA Baseball uniform. Panini America is the official and exclusive trading card partner of USA Baseball.
“Stephen Strasburg is one of the most dominant pitchers in the game today; and one of baseball’s most popular and collected players,” said Panini America CEO Mark Warsop. “His exclusive presence in our licensed MLBPA trading card releases is a huge development for us and will add even more excitement to our roster of products. We’re honored that Stephen has entrusted us – exclusively – to represent and protect the integrity and collectibility of his autographed trading cards.”
Strasburg is Panini’s first exclusive athlete for its MLBPA trading card products.