Less than five months after a sweeping acquisition of the trading card licenses for Major League Baseball, the NFL and NBA, Fanatics has made its first major move. The Florida-based company announced Tuesday that it has struck a deal to acquire long-time MLB licensee Topps. The move would allow Fanatics’ new trading card division to assume Topps’ current licenses with the MLB and MLB Players and begin guiding the baseball card market almost immediately.
“With trading cards and collectibles being a significant pillar of our long-term plans to become the leading digital sports platform, we are excited to add a leading trading cards company to build out our business,” stated Fanatics CEO Michael Rubin. “Their iconic brand, commitment to product excellence and passionate employees worldwide will allow us to immediately serve our league and players’ association partners and our fans.”
Rubin is also co-owner of the Philadelphia 76ers and New Jersey Devils in addition to running the online sports merchandise behemoth. Fanatics Trading Cards is designed as a separate business valued at $10.4 billion.
He promised Tuesday that the Topps name would remain in place.
We are proud to share that the iconic Topps brand will remain on all MLB cards, which we are making as of today.
— Michael Rubin (@michaelrubin) January 4, 2022
According to CNBC, the deal is worth “roughly $500 million.” The sale includes all parts of its iconic worldwide trading cards and collectibles business – both the physical and digital divisions – which sells in more than 100 countries and has physical operations in 10 countries, including the UK, Germany, Brazil, Italy and Japan. Topps would retain control of its candy/confectionery and gift card businesses.
Topps has over 350 employees in all and Fanatics indicated Tuesday that those employees would keep their jobs. Current Topps Global VP, GM, David Leiner, and VP, GM Topps Digital, Tobin Lent, will continue to run Topps within Fanatics Trading Cards, a separate subsidiary of Fanatics. Both executives will report directly to Doug Mack, Fanatics Inc. Vice Chairman and Fanatics Commerce CEO.
Fanatics said Tuesday that buying Topps “significantly accelerates the buildout of the Fanatics Trading Cards business, as the company adds world-class expertise, infrastructure, an iconic brand and a broad range of capabilities from the industry leader.”
Last August, Fanatics stunned the sports business and collecting worlds by winning future licenses to produce cards for not only baseball, but the NBA and NFL. Panini America currently owns the latter two licenses at present. Under the new arrangements, the leagues and players would have a stake in the new Fanatics trading card company, led by former StockX co-founder Josh Luber.
Fanatics stated that the deal “jumpstarts Fanatics Trading Cards’ MLB and MLBPA rights to design, manufacture and distribute trading cards, which begins immediately versus the original combined start date of 2026.” MLB’s deal with Topps had been set to run through that year. “We wanted to start with a foundation that was in place,” Rubin told the Wall Street Journal. “That’s a much better approach than building this from scratch.”
Fanatics’ deal with MLB and its players put an end to Topps’ plan to go public in a blank-check merger deal that was valued at over $1 billion. Now, Fanatics is expected to be able to accelerate its plans to take over the MLB trading card market while maintaining ownership of the long running Topps brands that have become familiar to collectors.
Topps also has the rights to Formula One and three different soccer leagues, which gives Fanatics additional opportunities to create cards for growing sports properties.
“The strong emotional connection between Topps collectibles and consumers of all ages – built through 70 years of tradition, starting with the Shorin family – will make it a jewel in the Fanatics portfolio,” stated Michael Eisner, owner of the Tornante Company. “Michael Rubin is the perfect entrepreneur to lead this company forward. Like any crown jewel, I and my partners at Madison Dearborn will miss our many years of ownership where we grew a highly profitable business through strategic licensing partnerships, global expansion, and digital transformation. We’re proud of what the Topps team has accomplished, and we look forward to seeing what Michael and his team do to continue growing the Topps collectible business while staying true to its iconic history and relevance to consumers.”
Beyond that, Topps’ only comment Tuesday was a social media post.
— Topps (@Topps) January 4, 2022
Topps and MLB had extended their long running license agreement in 2018 and New York-based Topps reportedly thought that partnership was poised for renewal until Fanatics swooped in and created their lucrative partnership proposal with the leagues and their players.
Owning three major pro sports trading card licenses could mean that Fanatics could eventually bring back some well-liked brands from the past but that will be determined on whether they’re also able to acquire the licenses currently held by Panini. Fanatics reportedly has deals in place with the NBA and its players as well as the NFLPA.
The acquisition of Topps will offer some continuity and it’s possible Fanatics will seek to grow and improve the brand by taking over the logistics of distribution to operate its trading card business more efficiently while allowing the current Topps team to continue creating products. Topps’ design team has already been working on sets that will be issued well into the 2022 season.
“The combined vision and distinct strengths of both Fanatics and Topps will improve the collector experience, while maintaining vital parts of the hobby,” Fanatics stated in a news release. “Fanatics’ data-driven, direct-to-consumer expertise, which includes a database of more than 80 million sports fans globally, will enhance and expand Topps’ existing digital capabilities and grow the market opportunity for all participants. Additionally, Topps’ world-class quality, product development and manufacturing capabilities, along with their commitment to collectors and hobby shops, will ensure products are more readily accessible, positively impacting current and future collectors and partners.”
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