The NBA and NBPA were the latest to sign exclusive card deals with Fanatics. The NFL could be next. (Photo via NICOLAS ASFOURI/AFP via Getty Images)
TRADING CARDS & COLLECTIBLES

Fanatics Acquired the Hobby. What Happens Next?

Fanatics will soon have MLB, NBA, and NFL trading cards under one roof. That’s an absolutely seismic shift for the trading card world.

Fanatics has sent the sports trading card hobby into a frenzy. The company announced last week that it’s acquiring the exclusive card licenses to MLB and MLBPA, effectively ending Topps’ 70-year partnership with baseball when its current deal expires in 2025.

The NBA and its players union quickly followed, leaving an exclusive deal with the NFL and NFLPA as Fanatics’ last remaining target before true consolidation of the hobby would be achieved.

Then, on Tuesday, ESPN’s Adam Schefter was first to report that consolidation is exactly what’s taken place — the NFLPA will leave Panini for an exclusive Fanatics trading card deal in 2026. Reading the writing on the wall, the league itself should be expected to follow soon enough.

If Fanatics truly gets the three biggest sports in card collecting under its roof, the landscape for collectors and investors alike changes dramatically. Topps without baseball and Panini without football and basketball would have to pivot hard into new corners of the industry — or new industries entirely — especially if the goal is to avoid ultimately being acquired by Michael Rubin’s sports apparel and e-commerce giant.

The momentum increasingly suggests that Fanatics will ultimately pull this off. If and when that happens, let’s identify what collectors can hope to see as the hobby moves forward into unprecedented territory.

Topps

There were a lot of heartbroken collectors out there when news dropped of Topps’ impending split with baseball. Since 1952, it’s all collectors have ever known when it came to MLB cards, but the prognosis doesn’t have to be doom and gloom.

There were rumors of Fanatics originally trying to acquire Topps before ultimately acquiring the MLB and MLBPA’s card licenses, and that could very well still be in play now. Let’s say Fanatics acquires Topps — from the consumer standpoint, it could essentially feel as if Topps never left. The products we know and love will still be released, though likely with a slight branding change.

“Topps Chrome by Fanatics,” perhaps.

The return of Topps Chrome basketball and football could be in play in the big picture, too.

If Topps instead opts to remain independent, their best bet is likely soccer, the sport with the biggest worldwide growth potential in the hobby. Whether there’s enough time for the iconic brand to make such a transition now that plans to go public via SPAC are kaput, however, remains to be seen.

Panini

Since the hobby boom took hold, Panini has been occasionally polarizing as a brand, but whether it’s flippers “ruining retail” products at Target and Walmart or the massive increase in hobby box prices. But that all stands to come to an end now that the NFLPA has joined basketball in jumping ship, giving Fanatics a trifecta.

Panini losing the two most popular US sports leagues by fan interest is significantly drive down its brand value, leaving the door open for Fanatics to scoop a weakened Panini for their product lines for pennies on the dollar.

Of Panini’s catalog of products, Fanatics could decide to trim things down to:

  • Donruss, Prizm, and Select for lower- to mid-tier offerings
  • National Treasures and Flawless on the high end

This reshuffling would allow Fanatics to hit the ground running by focusing on products that tend to retain value most effectively from an investment standpoint, and that have the best, most proven appeal to veteran collectors.

The alternative in Panini wants to avoid acquisition at all costs? Double down on the NIL revolution by continuing to invest aggressively in the fledgling market for licensed college sports trading cards. The company has deals with the UFC and NASCAR, but prioritizing the NCAA route offers the biggest return by far.

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Upper Deck

Fanatics might consider acquiring a trading card staple like Upper Deck for a number of reasons. The first would naturally be Upper Deck’s extensive catalog of recognizable card and memorabilia products. The second is something more specific: Their exclusive memorabilia rights for all-time superstars like Michael Jordan and LeBron James.

Additionally, a possible reintroduction of Upper Deck Exquisite to a newer generation of collectors featuring a new class of generational hoopers would generate excitement. And could see the first-ever Prizm Silver Michael Jordan or a LeBron James Topps Chrome autograph? There are endless crossover possibilities, too. Imagine a “Stars of LA” dual-autograph card featuring King James and Mike Trout.

As Fanatics makes such major moves, we’re looking at an unprecedented landscape for trading card enthusiasts, who are assuredly all keeping a close eye on this developing narrative.

In any event, however, Fanatics is serious about making truly massive investments in the industry. And they’re sure to have equally massive implications all around the hobby for years to come.

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