Topps, now owned by Fanatics, announced triumphantly that it had closed a deal for the rights to the new two Euro soccer championships. The recent news regarding Topps Euro 2024 rights may sound like minor news after the high-profile deals to secure the NBA, NFL, and MLB rights for Fanatics. However, it signals what is likely an aggressive foray into Panini’s home turf: soccer
Topps has announced that it has made a deal with the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA), the main governing body for continental soccer. It guarantees the Fanatics-owned company exclusive rights to all officially licensed trading cards and stickers lined to the Euro 2024 event in Germany. The deal also covers the 2028 iteration, which does not yet have a host country.
In addition, Topps has procured the rights to the biennial UEFA Nations League competition and the Women’s Euro 2025 tournament. The partnership also covers the European soccer body’s national team competitions up to Euro 2028, including the Nations League Finals and Women’s Euro 2025.
Every four years, the best national teams of Europe compete for the Euro title in a knockout competition. The first iteration was played in 1960. This was a historical time, three years after the continent took an early step towards political unification with the Treaty of Rome. Since then, it has become a favorite of soccer fans, often surpassing the more storied World Cup in quality and drama.
Panini has accompanied the tournament’s evolution from a quaint 4 team competition to the juggernaut it is to today. The Italian company produced stickers for all competitions from 1964 and on. They have also produced soccer trading cards in recent years, some of which have been quite popular in the United States.
The deal extends existing cooperation between Topps and UEFA. The veteran US card company has been producing cards for the flagship European club competition, the UEFA Champions League (UCL). It also owns the rights to create NFTs for the UCL, though Topps has yet to unveil their plans for that line. They will include digital versions of iconic Champions League moments alongside the required third-party IP clearances. At the time, Topps hinted at its ambitions within European soccer. “As UEFA’s exclusive partner for collectibles, we are not only taking a huge step towards the future together, but we’re also taking collectibles to the next level.” However, that deal notably predated the acquisition of Topps by Fanatics.
Fanatics has long partnered with the European soccer body to sell merchandise. Indeed, Fanatics stores have been popping up at major continental soccer tournaments for years now. If so, the agreement for the Euro rights completes a takeover of all levels of continental soccer competitions controlled by UEFA.
The American company has appointed veteran coach Jose Mourinho as the new “Sticker Manager of Topps.” The legendary former Chelsea coach will serve as the Topps ambassador to the soccer world, a community that has grown accustomed to looking to Panini for its soccer and sticker needs.
Patrick Rausch, Chief Marketing Officer EMEA of The Topps Company, explained, “This is more than special for us. That is why we selected none other than The Special One, José Mourinho. José is a true legend and one of the biggest names within European football.”
I am sure that hiring Mourinho was a costly venture. It further indicates Fanatics and Topps’ seriousness about the soccer market.
A bit of history for casual soccer collectors. Benito and Giuseppe Panini formed that renowned company in 1961, and it has since become the top sports card and sticker producer globally. They got to this spot by issuing stickers and albums or the World Cup tournaments. Since Panini released the iconic World Cup 1970 sticker set, children have collected these religiously.
Panini used its global dominance to make a play for the American market. First, in 2009 they shook up the hobby by buying the NBA writes and shutting Topps out of what has become the most lucrative card market. Then, in 2016, they displaced Topps in licensed football cards when they received exclusive rights to sell NFL cards.
Therefore, think of soccer as the Panini home base in military terms. In contrast, big American sports are the sites of successful invasions. From that perspective, you can see why losing a major soccer contract is huge news.
Having swallowed up Topps, the most important remaining question was what the future holds for Panini. The Italian company has made moves to expand its market into UFC and other streams. But none seem even remotely lucrative enough to make up for the loss of the NBA and NFL.
The primary future source of revenue for Panini is soccer. There is no doubt about that. But Topps may be gunning for all of Panini’s holdings in the world’s most popular sport. There are already some hints of what is to come.
Mark Catlin, Topps’ general manager of international sports and entertainment, said, “we are naturally extremely happy to be the official partner of UEFA through to 2028, offering our community and football fans throughout the world the premier national players, teams, and the greatest of European footballing moments.” Hinting at further moves, Catlin said, “the announcement of this partnership is a huge step, and there is so much more to come on our road to Euro 2024 and beyond.”
To have an informed conversation about soccer card trading rights, we need to understand the sport a bit better.
In the United States, we are used to powerful leagues that monopolize professional sports. Soccer is structured very differently. Sure, there are powerful global, regional and national federations. But because the sport is so international, different bodies control the rights to the most significant events in the sport.
The first thing to remember is that soccer is divided into global, regional, and national tournaments. There are prestigious and highly lucrative competitions on all levels. Therefore, sports card manufacturers have to deal with different bodies.
So, let’s make some order out of the chaos. Here are the leading global competitions and who owns their rights. The most important distinction is between competitions involving national teams and clubs.
Many of the most exciting tournaments in the world feature national teams. Each nation picks its best and brightest (well, best anyway) to represent its nation regardless of what club they play for. So for example, the German national team has players who play in the English, Italian and German leagues who are eligible to play for the team as long as they are German nationals.
The most famous international competition is the World Cup, which pits the best teams from worldwide in a knockout tournament. However, there are several others, including the Euro, which we have already discussed.
Here is a list of the major tournaments and who owns the rights to them.
|African Nations Cup||CAF||Panini|
While all of these tournaments are important, the first three are by far the most important. But the World Cup looms large above all the others. That franchise is also the basis of Panini’s global dominance. Therefore, we will be looking at developments there very closely.
Do you think soccer can be divided into national and local competitions? Think again. Instead, the best club teams in every country compete for continental supremacy in a series of competitions. So, if, for example, Chelsea wins the English championship, they may face the Spanish or Portuguese champions in a continental competition.
The most prestigious among these is easily the UEFA Champions League, which sees the best teams in Europe do battle.
|CAF Champions League||CAF||–|
|Concacaf Champions League||CONCACAF||–|
The bread and butter of soccer are the domestic leagues. How does it work? Every country in the world has an annual league. Only clubs from that country compete in domestic leagues. These are often structured in tiers, with promotion and relegation open for the best and worst teams, respectively. In addition, performance in domestic leagues determines qualification for continental competitions. Keep in mind that cards are almost exclusively produced for the top leagues. Secondary leagues don’t garner much attention in the hobby.
|English Premier League||FA||Panini|
|Major League Soccer||USSF||Topps|
|La Liga (Spain)||RFEF||Panini|
|Serie A (Italy)||Federcalcio||Panini|
|Ligue 1 (France)||FFF||Panini|
|Scottish Premier League||SFA||Topps|
Panini still has the upper hand in the global soccer market. The ownership of the rights to the World Cup and most (though not all) of the most significant leagues guarantees them a good deal of soccer-related income.
Nonetheless, the Euro is the second biggest national team tournament. By purchasing its rights, Topps is signaling its determination to become the biggest name in the soccer world. The two significant licenses to look out for are the Premier League and World Cup. If Topps gets either of them (and certainly both), they will likely achieve their goal.