We mentioned this as a possibility after MLB and the players association ended their longtime association with Topps: Fanatics, which snared the baseball-card rights, is now acquiring the Topps trading card and collectibles business.
The acquisition doesn’t cover all of Topps, which has emerged as a major player in the collectibles business in recent years, but does cover the historical core of the company: trading cards and collectibles. Though there have been plenty of other baseball-card vendors over the years–Fleer, Bowman, Upper Deck, Panini–none have the longevity and tradition of Topps. Indeed, for a whole generation of fans, baseball cards and Topps are pretty much synonymous. But the relationship between Topps and MLB ended in August, when MLB and the players association entered into a new relationship with Fanatics, which is partially owned by MLB. At that time we noted that Fanatics, which has no experience with or infrastructure for trading cards, could come up to speed quickly by acquiring the Topps card business.
The Wall Street Journal is reporting Fanatics will acquire the Topps sports and entertainment division from private equity firm Madison Dearborn Partners and former Disney head Michael Eisner’s Tornante firm for $500 million–a decent return on the $385 million paid by Madison Dearborn Partners and Tornante in 2006, but less the windfall expected when Topps was set to go public blank-check merger valued at over a billion dollars.
The acquisition allows Fanatics to immediately become a major player in the trading card and collectibles fields: The licensing deal with the players association ends this year, while the licensing deal with MLB for the use of logos ends in 2025. It’s a rapid rise for a relatively young company: Fanatics is an e-commerce firm that also manages some team stores, but in terms of original offerings, Fanatics lacks experience and staffing; its limited originals are meh at best. The firm wants to be everything to everyone, looking to be involved in ticketing and sports gambling as well. Topps, on the other hand, has shown a lot of imagination in recent years when it comes to cards and collectibles, whether it be Project70 or a new licensing deal with the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum for cards and collectibles, and has embraced NFTs as a next-generation technology. But the circle is certainly closing: Besides investments from the major leagues (MLB, NFL, NHL), Fanatics received backing from private-equity firm Silver Lake, entertainment leader Endeavor (which made some recent news acquiring 10 MiLB teams) and Insight Partners. MLB is now closely interlinked with business partners past just a contractural relationship.
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