Sports Apparel giant Fanatics has purchased sports card manufacturer Topps. The purchase is limited to the card division of the company and will not include the greeting card and confectionary divisions which the previous owner will retain. So what does the Fanatics acquisition of Topps mean for the hobby?
News of the deal was broken by the Wall Street Journal and several sources on January 3. Fanatics confirmed the deal the following day with a press release.
However, the value of the agreement is being kept tightly. At least for now. We could not confirm the exact value of the sale.
Back in August, Fanatics made massive headlines by winning the rights to NBA, MLB, and NFL products. With those deals in tow, it was precise Fanatics would dominate the card industry for the foreseeable future.
A press release sent out by Fanatics on January 4th stated:
“The acquisition of Topps’ sports & entertainment division includes all parts of its iconic worldwide trading cards and collectibles business – both the physical and digital divisions – which sells in more than 100 countries and has physical operations in 10 countries, including the UK, Germany, Brazil, Italy, and Japan.
Fanatics Trading Cards was launched in 2021 after the company secured exclusive, long-term trading cards rights from several of the leading professional sports leagues and players associations, including Major League Baseball (MLB), the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA), the National Basketball Association (NBA), the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA) and National Football League Players Association (NFLPA).
To ensure seamless ongoing operations, all of the approximately 350 global Topps sports & entertainment employees will become part of Fanatics Trading Cards. Current Topps Global VP, GM, David Leiner, and VP, GM Topps Digital, Tobin Lent, will continue to run Topps within Fanatics Trading Cards, a separate subsidiary of Fanatics. Both executives will report directly to Doug Mack, Fanatics Inc. Vice Chairman and Fanatics Commerce CEO.”
Topps is no longer the biggest card manufacturer in the United States. They lost that title to Panini years ago. Nonetheless, they continue to hold a strong prestige and recognition factor. The Fanatics press release noted:
“The combined vision and distinct strengths of both Fanatics and Topps will improve the collector experience while maintaining vital parts of the hobby. Fanatics’ data-driven, direct-to-consumer expertise, which includes a database of more than 80 million sports fans globally, will enhance and expand Topps’ existing digital capabilities and grow the market opportunity for all participants. Additionally, Topps’ world-class quality, product development and manufacturing capabilities, along with their commitment to collectors and hobby shops, will ensure products are more readily accessible, positively impacting current and future collectors and partners.”
Buying Topps allows Fanatics to get in on the baseball card action immediately. It will no longer have to wait until 2026.
The press release noted: “The addition of Topps, which also has rights with Major League Soccer, Formula 1, UEFA and Bundesliga, significantly accelerates the buildout of the Fanatics Trading Cards business, as the company adds world-class expertise, infrastructure, an iconic brand and a broad range of capabilities from the industry leader. The deal jumpstarts Fanatics Trading Cards’ MLB and MLBPA rights to design, manufacture and distribute trading cards, which begins immediately versus the original combined start date of 2026.”
Topps has been the king of baseball cards since 1952 when its iconic series revolutionized the collectible industry. It has since bought out competitors, most notably Bowman, in its bid to protect the monopoly it holds.
Topps has also been no stranger to big-money moves itself. In 2007, former Disney CEO Michael Eisner headed a takeover of the company for $385 million. However, the money behind it proved unable to compete with Fanatics, worth a reported $18 billion.
It is the biggest news since Fanatics got the rights to the three most significant sports leagues in the United States. In addition, Topps, historically the biggest and most important name in American sports card history, has been purchased by Fanatics.
Topps owner Michael Eisner seemed to welcome the news. He said “The strong emotional connection between Topps collectibles and consumers of all ages – built through 70 years of tradition, starting with the Shorin family – will make it a jewel in the Fanatics portfolio. Michael Rubin is the perfect entrepreneur to lead this company forward. Like any crown jewel, I and my partners at Madison Dearborn will miss our many years of ownership where we grew a highly profitable business through strategic licensing partnerships, global expansion, and digital transformation. We’re proud of what the Topps team has accomplished, and we look forward to seeing what Michael and his team do to continue growing the Topps collectible business while staying true to its iconic history and relevance to consumers.”
Behind Eisner’s sweet words, there is lurking bitterness. The sale of Topps was preceded by fierce corporate competition and strong-handed tactics.
The move was predictable to many insiders. Fanatics had already moved aggressively to neuter Topps in the past. Moreover, their announcement of a takeover of the rights to baseball, basketball, and football cards came on the eve of a significant investment in Topps. Topps planned to go public and had reached a deal with Mudrick Capital to obtain a special purpose acquisition merger with the venture capital firm valued at $1.3 billion.
By removing their 70-year deal with the MLB on the eve of the agreement, Fanatics had left Topps for dead. It was only a matter of time before they came back to reanimate the corpse.
Despite this gruesome imagery, the move will come as welcome news for most baseball collectors. Sure, baseball fans tend to be conservative, and many are attached to Topps. They may even prefer that it remain independent.
The story above illustrates what a lousy position Topps had found itself in. The company’s value was going down by the day as it approached 2025, the year when MLB rights would move to Fanatics. In the meantime, it would possibly face decreased interest and sales as a dead duck company.
Fanatics were the only prospective buyers. No other actors would benefit from buying Topps sans MLB rights. Therefore, with time on the side of Fanatics. It made perfect sense for Topps to swallow the bitter pill and sell early at a (presumably) higher price.
However, there was genuine concern at the idea of Fanatics launching new baseball lines. Collectors are far too attached to the Topps flagship releases and Bowman line. The purchase of Topps by Fanatics likely signals that Topps products will continue to appear much as they had before.
The significant releases should be safe. At least for the time being. However, they may streamline releases and cancel some of the less popular ones.
Keep in mind that Topps has several other products aside from baseball. Fanatics will likely continue to honor current Topps agreements and produce cards in these lines as usual:
The real question is what will happen in basketball and football releases. The purchase of Topps most likely rules out a similar move for Panini. Therefore, the Italian card giant will continue to own popular lines like Prizm and Optic. As long as they continue to manufacture cards, they are unlikely to part with those brands.
Fanatics can revive old favorites like Topps Chrome, which used to be popular football and basketball releases in the past. However, it will find winning over the hearts of basketball and football collectors challenging.
Another significant change we can expect is in the field of NFTs. Topps forays into the NFT marketplace have not been particularly successful. The merger with Mudrick was aimed at fixing that problem. Now we can expect Fanatics to put their massive resources towards dominating the sports NFT world.
If you had asked Panini executives how they would feel about the downfall of Topps a couple of years ago, they may have told you they would be delighted. However, the current card landscape does not look promising for Panini America. Football and particularly basketball have been the biggest earners for the company. Now they have lost the rights, and Fanatics has made a massive play that excludes them.
For now, Panini will continue to enjoy a place in the American marketplace through soccer and its unlicensed products. But it has basically become the equivalent of Upper Deck overnight. It is a company that is still relevant, but with its best days long behind it.
This deal’s other possible losers. Dapper Labs may face stiff competition for NBA and NFL digital collectibles. Fanatics CEO Michael Rubin addressed the importance of NFTs in the deal:
“With trading cards and collectibles being a significant pillar of our long-term plans to become the leading digital sports platform, we are excited to add a leading trading cards company to build out our business. Their iconic brand, commitment to product excellence, and passionate employees worldwide will allow us to immediately serve our league and players’ association partners and our fans.”
The deal will revolutionize basketball and football cards while bringing stability to baseball. However, all the ramifications will only become apparent once the official announcements are made. Stay with us at Cardlines, as we will be following this story closely and updating this article when new information comes in.