The dominos continue to fall in a stunning turn of events for the sports trading card market.
The NBA and the league’s players have both agreed to a new deal with ecommerce giant Fanatics that will make the Florida-based company the new exclusive card licensee. The news came Monday morning from Shams Charania, lead NBA reporter for The Athletic.
Licensed sports giant Fanatics has reached a deal with the NBA and NBPA to replace Panini in 2026 for exclusive license to produce basketball cards – giving equity to players and league in the new trading cards venture.
— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) August 23, 2021
The deal would end Panini’s run as the NBA’s exclusive trading card maker, one that began in 2009, a move that was somewhat shocking in its own right as long time licensees Topps and Upper Deck were forced to the sidelines in those sports.
The NBA/Fanatics news was not unexpected. Late last week, multiple sports business media outlets reported that in addition to the widely discussed decision by Major League Baseball and its players to take a mega bucks deal with Fanatics, the NBA and NFL were among other leagues likely expected to jump ship from Panini America. So far, there’s been no word from the NFL or the NHL and its players regarding its own exclusive deal with Upper Deck.
There has also been no confirmation to date from Fanatics, but with many elements apparently in play across multiple leagues, that’s not surprising. With no experience producing traditional trading cards, there could be other factors in play as well.
Last week, Topps learned of MLB’s deal with Fanatics just prior to a planned merger with Mudrick Capital, a SPAC group that would have meant a huge payday for the long-running baseball trading card partner and made Topps once again a publicly traded company. Now, the company’s future appears uncertain. The same goes for Panini, which appeared to have a steady hold on multiple licenses. Like Topps, the company now finds itself unable to match what Fanatics is offering to both the leagues and their players, who will essentially become partners in the new venture and, if reports are correct, rake in significantly more cash.
MLB’s contract with Topps currently runs through 2025 while the players’ deal ends earlier. The NBA/Panini agreement runs even longer but it wouldn’t be shocking to some industry veterans if Fanatics was working to take over the contracts in a much shorter time frame, especially in light of the strong and growing market for cards. A lengthy lame duck license status wouldn’t be an ideal scenario for Fanatics so the current card makers may have more leverage than some might expect.
According to reports last week by Sportico and The Action Network, Fanatics is expected to launch a trading card subsidiary of its own, led by Josh Luber of StockX.