Fanatics Acquires League Rights; Shakes up Sports Cards Industry

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Icon Sportswire / Contributor

Sometimes breaking news is so huge that you have to stop what you are doing, put your phone down, rub your eyes and then read it again to make sure that you saw the headline correctly.

Today was one of those days.

Major League Baseball and the MLB Player's Association announced a new deal–as first reported by Jared Diamond of the Wall Street Journal–with online sports merchandise and collectible giant Fanatics, breaking a long standing partnership that they have had with Topps, the company synonymous with the term "baseball cards" that has dominated the space since the early 1950's.

The deal with the MLBPA is set to initiate in 2023, meaning that Fanatics may begin producing cards without team logos on it for the first three years. MLB's current deal with Topps runs through the end of 2025, meaning that starting in 2026, Fanatics will be allowed to include all MLB trademarks and logos.

To say that this deal is a major blow to Topps would be an understatement. Earlier this year, it was announced that Topps was going public through a SPAC named Mudrick Capital (MUDS).

Topps currently has exclusive rights to produce cards with MLB players and logos, while Panini produces baseball cards MLB logos photoshopped out, as their partnership is strictly with the MLBPA, and not with MLB.

Wait... It's Not Just Baseball!

Jason Koeppel // ONE37pm

As if this news wasn't significant enough, a memo sent to baseball players by MLBPA executive director Tony Clark about this topic included the following language:

"...other significant sports properties also separately have agreed to exclusive licenses with (the new Fanatics company) in the trading cards category”

As news continued to trickle out, Josh Feldman of Sportico chimed in with this bombshell, including the NBA, NBAPA and NFLPA as leagues that MLBPA Tony Clark was apparently referencing in his memo :

What's Next?

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Fanatics Founder/Executive Chairman Michael Rubin / Kevin Mazur/Getty Image

This situation is completely fluid, and I am sure that more details will be coming out in the next couple of days, introducing more clarity in to what this all means for the future.

With MLB, MLBPA, NBA, NBAPA and NFLPA licenses secured, Fanatics has become the major player in the card space literally overnight. Are there more partnerships still to be announced? Only time will tell, but this much is certain. Michael Rubin and Josh Luber made a major power play today. How it all plays out and whether or not it's good for the hobby will remain to be seen, but I wouldn't bet against the two of them.

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