In acquiring Topps, Fanatics’ baseball card takeover starts three years early. Let’s identify the biggest takeaways for collectors and investors.
In another major (but not unexpected) power move, Fanatics has reached an agreement to acquire Topps, as first reported by Sportico. Back in August, Fanatics secured official trading card partner rights for the MLB and MLBPA due to begin in 2025, ending a 70-year relationship between Topps and Major League Baseball.
Now, Fanatics effectively obtains baseball’s exclusive trading card rights immediately as opposed to waiting until 2025. And they’re positioned not only to keep Topps Baseball products around as if they never left, but bring back other Topps products, including its dormant catalog of basketball and football sets.
The deal is worth approximately $500 million, as reported by CNBC, and will notably include only Topps’ name and sports and entertainment division, excluding the company’s candy and gift cards line.
The news comes less than five months after Topps abandoned its attempt to take itself public via a SPAC deal in August. Naturally, the reverberations across the trading card hobby are significant — let’s game out the biggest takeaways right here, right now.
The Return of Topps NBA & NFL?
A fantastic sight to see for long-time hobby enthusiasts? The possible return of Topps’ presence in basketball and football, something Fanatics can enable once its exclusive deals with the NFL and NBA kick in.
Due to the exclusive rights eventually ending up in Panini’s hands, many of the younger stars across football and basketball don’t have a flagship Topps card like the list of veteran icons that includes Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Tom Brady, and Aaron Rodgers. Now, the next generation of superstars — think Patrick Mahomes, LaMelo Ball, Justin Herbert, and Zion Williamson — would finally get their Topps Chrome moment if this were to come to fruition.
There’s a lot of nostalgia around Topps and Bowman products, too, and that presents a phenomenal asset for Fanatics to kick off their sports trading cards division in earnest. No one is going to complain about the return of a plethora of products that can help adults relive childhood memories through a rising generation of superstars.
Could Fanatics Simply Drop Topps?
Well… yes? But this scenario is as unlikely as Michael Rubin, CEO of Fanatics, being a fan of Fat Pat, the man behind the iconic single “Top(p)s Drop.”
But is a possibility we need to entertain, at least as a thought exercise.
Fanatics has grown into a globally recognized brand when it comes to anything sports-related. Their reach goes way beyond what the sports trading card enthusiast can imagine; it’s safe to say that someone who collects sports trading cards owns a jersey of their favorite player or team.
The same can’t be said the other way around.
Given that it’s first and foremost an apparel company, Fanatics could drop the Topps name altogether. Alternatively, it could go with some sort of “Topps by Fanatics” approach. The company technically has until 2025 to put a long-term plan in place.
In any event, the hobby can’t wait to break open the first box from those upcoming sets.
What About Panini and Upper Deck?
Topps wasn’t the only major brand to lose licensing deals. Panini is due to lose its exclusive rights to the NFL and NBA in the coming years — the same turn of events that spoiled Topps’ plans to go public and ultimately led to their acquisition.
Will Fanatics be able to do the exact same thing with Panini, bringing that formidable catalog of products under its umbrella? It cannot be ruled out.
Another trading card company watching in the distance amidst all these developments is Upper Deck — the company that owns exclusive autograph rights for Michael Jordan and LeBron James. Outside of that, Upper Deck is currently known for producing NHL products. Will they continue to stay independent, or will Fanatics make them an offer they can’t refuse?
How Should Collectors React?
We’re seeing another monumental shift for the hobby, but the group that makes the entire industry go hasn’t changed: it’s still all about the collectors.
To some, this all may look like Fanatics is acquiring Boardwalk, Park Place, and all four railroads. But as Karvin Cheung, the creator of Upper Deck Exquisite, told Boardroom: “As collectors, we have to stay positive and feel Fanatics will do a good job. If there’s a company that’s capable of reaching new collectors, it’s Fanatics.”
Fanatics may seem first and foremost like the entity with the most money, but they also have great working relationships with the major sports leagues and players unions that they don’t have to build from scratch. These organizations can all agree on how important it is not just to grow a fan base, but keep it engaged.
For years, one of the first purchases a young sports fan made was that crisp pack of trading cards — Fanatics wouldn’t take a chance on acquiring pieces of the hobby if they didn’t think there isn’t room to expand.