For 70 years, collectors have bought, sold, traded and flipped baseball cards manufactured by Topps, which has enjoyed an exclusive licensing agreement with Major League Baseball.
Not anymore. Topps has been traded, according to several reports.
Fanatics, which manufactures sports apparel, has cut a deal with MLB and the MLB Players Association to hold the exclusive license to produce baseball cards, Darren Rovell of Action Network reported. The MLPBA deal will not begin until licenses for Topps and Panini America expire at the end of 2022, according to ESPN.
Fanatics and MLB declined to comment, several outlets reported.
According to The Wall Street Journal, Fanatics has also essentially completed deals with the players’ unions for the National Basketball Association and the National Football League.
The NBA and NFL union deals with Panini expire at the end of 2025 and 2026, respectively, ESPN reported.
According to The Wall Street Journal, all three players’ unions will have equity stakes in the new venture.
MLB renewed its baseball card deal with Topps in 2018, according to CNBC. Topps produced its first baseball cards in 1948, a subset of 19 cards that appeared in the 252-card Magic Photos product. After producing several small sets in 1951, Topps unveiled a 407-card set in 1952, a product that included the company’s first card of New York Yankees Hall of Famer Mickey Mantle. That card remains the most valuable post-World War II baseball card, with one card selling for $5.2 million in a January 2021 private sale to actor Rob Gough.
After winning a battle with rival Bowman and absorbing the company in 1956, Topps was unopposed in producing licensed baseball cards until 1981, when Fleer and Donruss obtained licenses to compete.
While Topps has had competition before, holding the exclusive license means that team logos and nicknames are allowed on the card photographs and type. Companies that did not have the exclusive license were forced to airbrush and/or omit team nicknames and logos.
According to Action Network, Topps was the most valuable license to the MLBPA, paying the union $20.4 million in 2020, according to the union’s annual report with the U.S. Department of Labor.
Topps is in the process of going public through a combination with a special-purpose acquisition company, according to The Wall Street Journal. That deal, with Mudrick Capital Acquisition Corp. II, valued the combined entity at about $1.16 billion, the newspaper reported. Topps released its second-quarter earnings on Wednesday, announcing that sales had increased by 78%, The Wall Street Journal reported.
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