Written by Ben Burrows and DeMarco Williams
In arguably the most shocking and important move in the hobby’s history, Fanatics recently secured deals with the NBA, NFL, MLB and their unions for exclusive trading card rights.
The moves end Topps’ 70-year hold on baseball and Panini’s most-recent dominance in basketball and football. Though Panini and Topps will retain varying rights to soccer, the UFC, and other brands, the loss of the three major sports is a massive blow to two of the hobby’s most established manufacturers.
Sports Card Investor recently spoke with a variety of voices in the hobby about the Fanatics takeover and what collectors should expect in the near future.
Responses have been edited for clarity and length.
What was your initial reaction to the Fanatics news?
Goldin: It came as a surprise to me. Like a lot of people in the hobby, I was looking forward to the Topps IPO. But I think the whole key comes down to do the companies that aren’t going to have their licenses renewed fight? Do they go out and try to make unlicensed products or do they hasten the departure by cutting some deals and allowing Fanatics to start creating cards earlier?
Mohammed: I thought for a second it wasn’t real because they’ve been around forever, right? They’ve been the staple for baseball cards and Americana. No one would say they saw it coming. Out of the three major groups, you got Upper Deck, Topps and Panini. Upper Deck is a lot more small-time. Panini is massive and doing everything. With Topps, for some reason, it seems like they’ve been behind the curve on online sales and with NFTs and all the things they’re trying to do with blockchains. I don’t wanna say I saw it coming — I don’t think anyone saw it coming — but out of the three, I could see somebody coming in and, maybe, taking [Topps] over. But it’s not that; [Fanatics] bought the rights. I know [Topps] has Star Wars and some soccer league [licensing rights], but I don’t see how they can stay afloat doing those kinds of things. So, it’s a little shocking. But when a $20 billion company comes and throws money around, MLB is going to look at it.
Turner: My honest reaction was, “Holy crap, Michael Rubin just pulled an end-around on the industry.” In my head, I’m like how could Topps and Panini allow this to happen? In my opinion, as a collector, it kind of made sense that the card companies didn’t see it coming. But then I also think, to be honest, Fanatics is setting the world on fire and they have big valuations, a lot of great relationships with the leagues, and they could have more to offer. I was incredibly impressed that Fanatics could pull that off.
What does Topps mean to you and the hobby?
Burkart: It is the hobby. It is baseball, because that’s all I knew. Growing up, it was Topps. I started buying cards when I was walking home from kindergarten, first grade, back in ’72, ‘73, somewhere around there. You know, every day walking home past the little corner store. You had a quarter in your pocket. Hell, that was good for four or five packs. So, for somebody like me, when you heard that name Topps, you automatically thought baseball and baseball cards. It’s just an iconic name. With them losing their license, it’s gonna be a tough pill to swallow for a lot of people. For me, I haven’t gotten into any of the newer cards, whether it’s a Topps product, Panini, Upper Deck, any of this stuff. I was never able to get into the newer stuff once I got back into the hobby.
Mohammed: It means Americana, right? Topps and Bowman are synonymous with all the nostalgic elements of baseball. It’s part of culture, right? It’s the part of culture that they created and established in the ‘60s and ‘70s. Then the boom came in the‘80s and ‘90s. They’ve been at the epicenter of all that. I think there’s a lot more meaning for people who might be the baby boomers because that’s all they ever knew. There weren’t really other brands. I grew up in the ‘90s. We had Upper Deck. We had Donruss. We had different stuff, so it wasn’t as meaningful to me. But I can see how people are affected who grew up with this stuff.
Turner: As a collector, I was somewhat bummed on the Topps side because it’s such an iconic brand. I don’t know how to think about baseball cards without Topps. Vintage cards aren’t going away, but rookie cards of new players — I don’t know how to think about it. It bums me out as a collector.
What does this news mean for vintage cards? Do you envision them becoming more coveted?
Burkart: I’m thinking it might put a bigger emphasis on the vintage product. But then again, even if they didn’t lose their license, I don’t think [vintage cards] are gonna lose value. You’re gonna see fluctuations in prices of stuff. The vintage stuff, you know, might fall off a little bit and drop maybe 10%. But it’s not going to drop like a lot of this newer stuff. I think that newer stuff is gonna see the biggest drop? There’s always a big market for the vintage stuff. With Topps losing its license, it’s definitely not gonna hurt the vintage market.
What are some of your concerns about Fanatics taking over?
Burkart: I would say they might want to partner somehow with Topps. I was listening to somebody talk about Fanatics. They were saying how they would never buy anything from their website because it’s so overpriced. That’s the biggest thing. With what they paid for that licensing fee, it was 10 times what they said Topps was paying. How are they going to turn around and make money if it’s not going to be more overpriced? They’re singling out their biggest [customer] base because there’s only so many people that can afford that high-end stuff. They’re really gonna have to figure out a way to make stuff affordable to everyone. I mean, you can still have your high-end product, but if you lose this younger generation of collectors because you’ve priced them out of the market, you’re cutting your own throat.
Turner: My biggest fear is that Panini and Topps, that the current companies, have an incentive to make as much money as they can because they know it’s going away. If they overproduce they won’t be in the business to get hurt. I want Fanatics to be good for the hobby. I’m optimistic. Could Fanatics just mass produce low-end cards and not understand the hobby? Yes, that’s possible. But I like to think that they have the best interest of the hobby in mind.
What are your short-term predictions?
Goldin: My opinion is that Topps will come to some agreement with Fanatics where basically Topps will be the trading card arm of Fanatics. There will not be trading cards produced with a Fanatics logo and the brands we know and love will be there — Topps Chrome, Topps Finest will be able to make a return and Fanatics won’t have to start from scratch.
Mohammed: On a short term, I would say the next year or two, I would hope that Topps and Panini make a move [over] to Fanatics. You hope that Fanatics buys them out or they come to some kind of agreement. I do know, in the business world, corporation-level type stuff, that Fanatics has no need to buy Topps right now. So, what you’re going to see is the ability of them as a group to value the company even more. I’ve talked to a lot of card shop owners and we hope that Fanatics makes a play.
Turner: I think Fanatics is going to be really aggressive. If you look at how aggressive they’ve been in merchandise — I think they’ll follow a direct-to-consumer approach. My guess is that they want everyone that’s buying merchandise to be buying cards, too. So they need to start building capacity and designing infrastructure.
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