Topps Loses Baseball Licensing Deal and Ends Plans to Go Public


Topps has been synonymous with trading cards, especially baseball cards, for 70 years.

That era will soon be over. Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association are terminating their licensing agreement with Topps in favor of Fanatics, the emerging brand of sports collectibles. The loss of baseball rights also resulted in an abrupt cancellation of a plan for Topps’ IPO on Friday, which put its future in question.

The company, which also owns Bazooka Gum, announced a deal in April to merge with a Mudrick Capital-operated special purpose vehicle (SPAC). The $ 1.3 billion merger was due for a shareholder vote next week.

Topps and Mudrick announced Friday morning that the deal would not close, the day after they were told that baseball contracts would not be renewed when they expire in 2022 for gamer pictures that the players union controls and 2025 for team logos in Major League Baseball Controls.

Andy Redman, Executive Chairman of Topps, said in a statement the company had been left in the dark by its league negotiators and the players’ union.

“Not only did we not know that Major League Baseball was negotiating our rights after 2025 with anyone other than Topps,” he said, but Topps was told Thursday by Noah Garden, the league’s chief revenue officer, “that a deal was going to be made was completed. completed and exclusively with Fanatics. “

“Similarly, prior to the All-Star Game on July 13, Evan Kaplan of MLB Players Inc. never indicated in two hour-long conversations to Topps that the union was negotiating our rights with other parties,” added Mr. Redman. Mr. Kaplan is the manager of the players’ union.

A league representative did not immediately respond to a request for comment. A union spokesman did not comment.

Topps has been owned by Tornante, the investment firm of former Walt Disney Company CEO Michael Eisner, and private equity firm Madison Dearborn, since 2007, when the pair bought it for $ 385 million.

Fanatics, last valued at $ 18 billion, has used its connections with major sports league teams to expand beyond hats, hoodies, and other branded items. In June, Candy Digital formed a digital collectibles company that partnered with Major League Baseball to introduce a range of non-fungible tokens. Fanatics has also recruited a number of executives from sports teams, gambling companies and technology companies as it is considering expanding into the ticketing, betting and gambling space.

The baseball deal reflects Fanatics’ growth ambitions, who transitioned to baseball cards when they exploded amid growing interest from local retailers and digital investors buying NFTs.

Fanatics will set up a new trading card company and give both Major League Baseball and the players’ union seats on the board, said a person familiar with the plans, who spoke on condition of anonymity as the plans were not yet public. The union and league will get a stake in the company, a shift towards owning part of the company that makes money off of its members’ images rather than simply licensing those images. Sports unions have been stepping up their commercial weapons in recent years to help players make more money from their likenesses.

Given its new licensing deals, Fanatics might consider acquiring one of the three big card companies: Panini, Upper Deck, or Topps, said a person familiar with the company’s mindset. This would reflect its strategy with apparel company Majestic, which it acquired after acquiring the major league uniform manufacturing rights that Majestic had previously held.

Kevin Draper and Ephrat Livni contributed to the coverage.