After a few days of generally positive vibes, the 2021 Industry Summit came to a close Wednesday with one trading card company chief addressing the elephant in the room.
Leaf doesn’t have a major sports trading card license, but in light of the new deals Fanatics has reportedly made to essentially take control of the major contracts, company president Brian Gray is feeling better than ever about that.
“We’ve had a huge year,” opened Gray. “Everyone here has made more money than they ever had (before.) Especially in the last two years.”
On the heels of winning his Industry Summit 2021 “Partners in Progress” award, the never shy Gray says he’s always happy to talk about his company and the hobby, but there’s “a storm ‘a brewing.”
“It’s hard to know what to do when we don’t know what is coming,” he said of Fanatics reportedly combining forces with the leagues and players for its new card and collectible deals.
What the next few years will bring is anyone’s guess. Gray told assembled hobby shop owners they may not have control of what’s going on in with licensing but they can control the response. He says many industry businesses, both corporate and private, will likely have to pivot in some form in the coming years.
Gray believes Fanatics, with its massive war chest and expertise in ecommerce, will force just about everyone to adjust in some form, including distributors, retail stores, dealers and even case breakers.
“If you are the last guy to make a decision, you lose.”
Gray says he’s trying to lead the way when it comes to signing college athletes under the new Name/Image/Likeness (NIL) rules that have freed them to make money through cards, autographs and their own memorabilia. He says he’s actively looking to work with athletes who may become elite in the next two to three years.
While it’s possible the trading card end of the business will be changing, Gray says it’s not altogether new in the industry.
“There is good news. The world didn’t end when Panini took over basketball,” Gray said of the last shift in licensing several years ago, one that created exclusive deals for every sports league.
Gray says Topps and Panini “are going to have to make some choices,” but “rumors of their deaths are exaggerated.”
Gray says Fanatics will face pressure, too, from a skeptical public. He says the company can control the industry but wrong moves could mean the whole thing could backfire.
Gray believes Leaf, which produces a variety of products despite the lack of major licenses and has remained successful, will come out OK, but he’s thinking ahead.
“The way I look at it, how everyone else moves will impact me.”