For seven decades, Topps has been the definitive name in baseball cards. And a new Fanatics deal brings it all to an end.
What a crazy week for the sports trading card market. First, eBay suspended PWCC from its platform over alleged prohibited practices. Now, Major League Baseball’s players union (and potentially the league itself) is poised to move on from Topps — MLB’s trading card partner of 70 years — in favor of something new.
Soon, for the first time since 1951, Topps will not be baseball’s official trading card brand. Their current deal with the league runs through 2025, at which apparel and memorabilia giant Fanatics would reportedly take over, per Jared Diamond of The Wall Street Journal.
This news comes as a huge surprise to not just baseball collectors, but the entire sports industry. It would mark the end of an era that stretches all the way back to when a 20-year-old Mickey Mantle embarked on just his second season in the bigs.
Back in April, Topps announced plans to go public through a SPAC merger with Mudrick Capital Acquisition Corp. II ($MUDS), with the longtime trading card titan valued at $1.3 billion. After today’s news, Topps will certainly be reevaluated. Critically, the company still has licensing rights to the NHL, UEFA Champions League, Bundesliga, MLS, and various non-sport properties.
But above all else, Topps has always evoked the history and pageantry of baseball — and it’s all poised to come to a close.
Fanatics reportedly plans to create a new subsidiary that will produce MLB- and MLBPA-licensed trading cards. They’re expected to give MLB and MLBPA equity in that new entity.
And that’s far from the whole story.
As Evan Drellich of The Athletic was first to report, Fanatics has similar plans for deals with the NFLPA and NBPA, as well as the respective leagues themselves — a scoop that was later confirmed by WSJ’s Diamond.
Thursday’s news builds upon the relationship Fanatics, the MLB, and the MLBPA have been forging over the last few years. Fanatics already owns the e-commerce rights to Major League Baseball merchandise. Candy Digital, which is co-owned by Fanatics, holds NFT rights for the league.
Notably, this move figures to mean big changes for Panini as well. The company not only releases exclusive parallels for various products under the Fanatics umbrella, but has its own line of baseball cards products as well. Panini currently has a deal in place with the MLBPA but specifically not the MLB, so their cards do not include team logos and marks.
Both the league and the players union choosing Fanatics as an exclusive partner flips the script for Panini significantly.
Much remains up in the air, but the fact remains that Topps’ current baseball deal comes to a close in 2025. Will the brand capitalize on the closing relationship by upping its production? If this iconic name is really exiting the baseball card stage, fans can only hope that they do so with a bang that sounds something like the crack of the bat of a home run by The Mick.