Fanatics is taking over baseball cards from Topps — and getting into the NFL and NBA, too. Let’s talk about the most important changes coming to the hobby.
As a member of the Boardroom team said Thursday, Topps losing its baseball card contract is like turkey losing its Thanksgiving contract. But here we are.
News this week of Major League Baseball and the MLBPA leaving Topps for a new venture from Fanatics has shaken the hobby to its core; your daddy’s (and granddaddy’s) baseball card brand will no longer be in the National Pastime business when its current deal expires in 2025.
In addition to that news, it was first reported by The Athletic that the NBA, NFL, and both leagues’ players unions will eventually follow suit and join Michael Rubin’s company’s burgeoning trading card portfolio as well.
We’ve seen consolidations like this before in other industries — Nike is the official jersey manufacturer for the NFL, NBA, and MLB as well as a massive list of college programs and global soccer clubs — but it’s never happened before in the hobby.
Fanatics owning exclusive rights for the three biggest US sports leagues will revolutionize the landscape for new and old collectors and investors alike.
And with this comes some potentially remarkable opportunities.
Time to take a look at the upside of this week’s news and shut down the naysayers insisting that the “hObBy Is DeAd.”
Three major sports under one roof
Putting the three biggest leagues for sports trading cards under the same roof makes it easier for certain types of collectors and investors to satisfy their itch. You can still go to a local hobby shop like LCS, but buying across multiple sports directly from Fanatics online without having to pay a handful of separate shipping fees?
For a lot of different types of collectors, that makes a difference.
With that in mind, having a one-stop shop for NFL, MLB, and NFL cards could constitute a win for collectors and bots alike.
Increased product confidence
It’s one of the biggest questions new collectors ask: “Which set should I collect?”
At times, Topps and Panini have done an inconsistent job laying all this out for those just entering the hobby. They are both capable of producing upwards of 20 annual sets within a single sport; when hobby boxes are $200 or more — and that only takes into account retail — it can be intimidating for someone just getting their feet wet.
Fanatics has an opportunity to tackle this issue by organizing their sports trading card platform based on clearly defined tiers of quality and/or rarity to give a collector a more intuitive sense of what the lay of the land really is.
Older cards’ values will increase
Ever heard of Sweet Caporal? They’re the creators of the record-setting Honus Wagner card that just sold at auction last weekend for $6.6 million. We’re not saying Topps and Panini will start selling in the millions, but their influence on the hobby will last forever.
Prizm, Bowman, and anything “Chrome” are all sets that are synonymous with sports trading card collecting — and that’s not going to change.
If anything, the passing of time stands to create an aura of nostalgia and prestige around these products. Their market values will respond accordingly.
More equity for more athletes
The NFL, NFLPA, and MLB already own equity stakes in Fanatics — and a rising tide has indeed lifted all ships.
The company’s valuation has tripled in one year’s time, reaching an incredible $18 billion earlier this month after a $325 million fundraise.
Since this new trading card entity will be built on direct participation from not just the three biggest US sports leagues, but their respective players’ labor unions, an absolute windfall stands to be made.
And some of it will end up directly in the athletes’ pockets.
That alone isn’t a new idea.
But for the first time in the world of collectibles and memorabilia, the money will be flowing from a single entity.
Topps and Panini aren’t going away
The MLB and Fanatics deal doesn’t start until 2025, and no word on exactly when the NFL and NBA will join Fanatics. Until then, you can expect both Topps and Panini to pull all the stops before their final curtain call.
Don’t forget, Topps and Panini have rights to various soccer leagues across the world, including the Premier League, UEFA Champions League, Bundesliga, the FIFA World Cup, and MLS.
Both Topps and Panini have player-exclusive deals for various tiers of memorabilia and collectibles. Notably, the former has a lifetime card and autograph pact with Angels superstar Mike Trout, and another with quarterback Trevor Lawrence of the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Panini has deals with phenoms like Rockets guard Jalen Green and Mavs world-beater Luka Dončić, among others. Both can release player sets that don’t include unlicensed team logos and marks, just like Topps did for Trevor Lawrence this past year.
Alternatively, they can take the Upper Deck Goodwin Champions route — one of the few ways to get newer cards with authentic autographs from titanic figures like Michael Jordan or LeBron James.
Solidification of the hobby
According to reports, Topps could not match Fanatics’ offer to MLB; baseball’s 70-year partner ultimately found no way to keep arguably the most natural, second-nature relationship in sports trading cards going. While that news is dark and gloomy, that means Fanatics is extremely confident in the sports trading card hobby.
Topps was valued at $1.3 billion when they announced their intentions to go public via SPAC in April. With that information in mind, imagine what Fanatics offered MLB that Topps could not match? Recent reports suggest that their offer was more than 10 times what Topps was willing to offer.
Topps had a phenomenal 70-year run in baseball, one that is unmatched by any other sports league across the full history of trading cards. While the news is sad from one perspective — change can be scary — these incredible developments could ultimately lead to a bigger, better hobby.