Sports Collectors

Editor’s Blog: Pause the Panic on Fanatics Sports Card Deal

Fanatics’ acquisition of a large chunk of the sports card landscape will kill collecting!

Fanatics’ acquisition of a large chunk of the sports card landscape will be the greatest thing ever to happen to the hobby!

Ah, opinions. The product of a free country and a Facebook account.

Scour the comments on social media and you’ll find opinions as diverse as the reaction to the design for next year’s Topps Baseball set. 

Someone ordered a shirt from Fanatics once and it had some issues and so they’re convinced the company will screw up trading cards.  Someone else believes it’s a stone cold lock that they’ll blow up every popular brand and make products so expensive only pro athletes themselves will be able to afford them.  Or, they’ll be lazy because they have no competition.

“That’s it! I’m done with the hobby!” they screamed after news broke that the sports behemoth was finalizing deals with multiple sports leagues and unions to essentially devour the entire sports trading card category now dominated by traditional trading card makers.

On the opposite side of the coin, someone else thinks Fanatics’ marketing and money will mean they’ll be able produce super high quality products and have them all available 24/7 within a mile of your house at 25 bucks a box with no redemptions and free coupons.

It never ceases to amaze me how someone can form such a strong and unyielding opinion on either end of the spectrum before there are actual facts on which to base it.  Right now, all we have are scoops from business reporters.  Accurate, no doubt, but not much else beyond the headlines.

What we do know is that the sports card industry is undergoing its first major changes in about ten years.  Not since exclusive licenses became the norm in the first half of the last decade have we had even a modest upheaval in the category of current cards.  This one may very well rock your world but right now, Fanatics isn’t saying anything about their plans.  We don’t know whether they’re going to buy their way into Topps and Panini and just try to do their work better or blow everything up and start doing it all their own way.

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The latter seems hard to imagine.  Collectors don’t like change but they do like familiar brands and both Topps and Panini have that going for them.  It’s hard to imagine a world without products like Heritage or National Treasures but we don’t really know if that will happen.

Collectors who were used to Upper Deck basketball products got used to Panini’s brands even if they missed the old lines.  If Fanatics opts to create their own and they’re well done, widely available and priced properly, they’ll be embraced, too.  And what if Fanatics is able to somehow acquire the business and keep the brands?  How about football and basketball products under the Topps name?  A revival of Chrome NBA and NFL would likely be a pretty big deal. Again, it’s just a dream at this point.

What Fanatics does have the ability to do right away is to put cards in collectors’ hands and market them.  They know sports products, how to let people know they’re out there and how to get them to you.  They understand the issues collectors have had about finding product at a reasonable cost.  And yes, they have some guys with card making experience on their payroll right now.

With the unions on board, they’ll have closer relationships to the players, which you’d think might lead to more live autographs in products, fewer autograph redemptions and maybe some other cool stuff.

Fanatics also knows how to turn things around quickly.  Within a minute or two of your team clinching a championship, you can buy stuff to commemorate it on Fanatics’ websites like this one.  They’ll now be able to put more card-related products in that catalog and produce one stop shop on-demand cards or related products available almost immediately.

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They also have the ability to put pop-up shops just about anywhere and now cards can be part of that.

With the leagues and players both having a big skin in the game, we might see more card-related promotions and events across the sports landscape.  An MLB-sponsored card show where new products are dropped for the first time?  An NBA or NFL-focused show with past and present players signing cards and memorabilia?  Who knows?

Will they hire current trading card designers and other personnel?  What sort of technology will they employ?  What will packaging look like?  What will price points be like?  Will they eliminate the current distribution network some of the resulting allocation issues for card shops and breakers?

Those are all key elements and no one outside the company and the leagues has much of a clue about them yet.

The news is fresh but this wasn’t a spur of the moment thing.  Brainstorms and meetings between Fanatics and the leagues have undoubtedly been taking place for months and Fanatics has crunched whatever numbers they feel need to be crunched and projected what the future might look like. 

But while the current league licenses still have a ways to run and we’re not likely to know everything until some future date, there’s no guarantee that sports cards will continue their upward trajectory in the meantime.   The hobby has seen cycles come and go for 40 years.  If all parties are committed—and billions of dollars say they are—it’s probably best if they let the public know what’s up as soon as possible and answer as many questions as they can or the uncertainty could put a damper on the “sports cards are on fire” party.

Until that time, it’s probably best to withhold judgment until there’s something concrete that’s worth typing into the comments section.

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