By Jared Brecher
September 21, 2021
Photo Credit: Associated Press
Historically, two companies have always controlled the trading card markets in Major League Baseball, the National Football League, and the National Basketball Association: Topps (MLB) and Panini (NFL and NBA). For decades, these arrangements worked well for each party and change seemed unimaginable. That is, until a few weeks ago.
Enter Fanatics, an online sports merchandising company that has rapidly expanded into the autographed memorabilia industry and now, the trading card industry.
In a series of strategic moves, Fanatics struck a deal with MLB and the NBA for the exclusive rights to produce trading cards and a separate deal with NFL to make cards with the image and likeness of NFL players, each of which is set to begin in 2026. From an outsider's perspective, it is starting to look like Fanatics may soon have monopoly-like power in the trading card market.
As Topps’ and Panini’s stronghold on the industry come to a close, collectors across the world are beginning to consider the implications that Fanatics’ takeover will have on the trading card market. Undoubtedly, some cards will skyrocket in value as they become older, rarer, and more coveted. However, many collectors may feel uneasy about a new market that is dominated by one company.
Additionally, given that Topps and Panini have repeatedly been slammed with complaints about quality control over the years, there are further concerns that Fanatics would experience similar troubles. But with Fanatics spending billions of dollars to enter the trading card industry, collectors can take relief in the idea that the company should be committed to ensuring quality for such a large investment.
On the other hand, collectors have great reason to be excited about the prospect of one company controlling a majority of professional sport cards. Card sets, for example, which are featured yearly by companies like Topps and Panini, have historically generated confusion in the minds of the consumer over how to value specific cards. But with one company in charge of distribution now, these card sets should take on a more uniform pricing system, thus making it easier for collectors to understand how valuable their cards actually are.
For Fanatics, these deals could prove to be a crazy cash cow. By 2027, one year after the company takes over control of MLB, NBA, and part of NFL trading cards, the sports trading card market is expected to reach nearly 100 billion dollars in value. While other companies will continue to exist (Topps still has an agreement with professional soccer), it is becoming abundantly clear who the big man on campus is going to be in 2026.
Speaking of campus, don't be surprised if Fanatics set its sights on college sports soon.