After seventy years of partnership with trading card company Topps, Major League Baseball has decided to end that relationship in favor of a new partnership with sports apparel company Fanatics. The move has come as a shock to hardcore baseball card collectors, who have grown up collecting cards of their favorite stars for years. After so many years with the same company, why would the MLB change their partner to a rival? Who was Topps, and who is the rival company that has displaced them? In this article, we’ll explore all those questions and more.
What Went Wrong With Topps?
The MLB’s move to work with Fanatics, and no longer renew their deal with Topps, didn’t just come as a surprise to just your everyday consumer. According to the top brass at Topps, they too were completely left in the dark about the switch until after it had already been made. M.L.B. Players Inc.
Losing the deal is a devastating blow to the legacy company, and completely derails the company’s planned merger with Mudrick Capital Acquisition Corp II. It’s not just the MLB that has made the dive to using Fanatics as their partner: other sports giants like the NBA as well as the NFL will partner with the sports merchandising goliath. The deal is likely to bring the MLB much more money than they’ve ever received in such a partnership.
One memo released suggests that the final figures could be ten times larger than any previous deal agreed by the union and could generate as much as 2 billion US dollars a year by 2045. On the other hand MLB betting is starting to gain more and more popularity as gamblers are looking for new things to bet on so, at the end of the day, the MLB is producing serious money and interest in the sport right now.
Now, Topps’ stock of clientele is quickly dropping in number and value: with the loss of the signature partnership with the MLB, the company has just soccer to look to. Indeed, that market is still humongous, as they are currently partnered with the American Major League Soccer, the German Bundesliga, and the prestigious UEFA Champions League.
Who Exactly are Fanatics?
Even though the deal has seemingly come out of the blue, and disrupted an age-old partnership, Fanatics is by no means a fledgling company. Based in Jacksonville, Florida, the company was started in 1995 as a brick-and-mortar store in the Orange Park Mall by brother duo Alan and Mitch Trager. They hit the ground running, and by 1997, the company was able to open their second store. They chose to take advantage of the budding online market and began hiring specifically for e-commerce in 2000.
Fanatics chose to specifically target websites that produced high quality contact and had equally high-quality domain names. Combined through the use of affiliate marketing, Fanatics growth was reaching new heights each year.
By 2006, the company was large enough to start acquiring other companies in the same niche, and the first company to be absorbed into the ranks was Richard Perel’s Marketsville, which itself featured the top collegiate e-commerce site CollegiateFootballStore.com. In 2011, Fanatics was purchased by GSI commerce, and was later bought outright by Michael Rubin from eBay.
The company’s acquisition of deals with major sports leagues was quick and unrelenting. In 2015, Fanatics was able to announce a partnership with the NBA to operate its largest store, which was in New York, and maintained responsibility for running the NBAstore.com.
That same year they also struck a deal with NASCAR and were from then on able to sell trackside merchandise. The following year, Fanatics struck a deal with NFL and its associated NFLshop.com and was also granted the rights for player merchandise. With that move, Fanatics cemented their status as a major player in the sports merchandising world, eclipsing Nike as the largest producer of sports merchandise.
By 2017, Fanatics had also stepped onto the rink, and had partnered with the NHL to make jerseys designed for fans. As of now, Adidas still produces the jerseys used by the players, but it may only be a matter of time before Fanatics starts to encroach there as well.
What this Means for Baseball Card Collectors
The move has certainly come as a shock to the collector community, as would any changes that come after seventy years of partnership, especially for a community that values tradition and history, like the baseball card collecting community.
It’s hard to say definitively what this move means for the trading card community, but it seems likely that Fanatics will make some efforts to appeal to the legacy fans who are typically more resistant to such major changes. This could mean resurgences of dollar packs or more availability could be in the cards in the near future.
In the meantime, you’ll still be able to collect cards from Topps, at least until 2026 when their deal runs out.