Baseball card shake-up: Topps relationship with MLB over after 70 years

The iconic baseball card producer left on the outside in stunning move by MLB, MLBPA. 

Tab Bamford

Tab Bamford

It’s been one helluva week for Topps.

The company is celebrating its 70th year producing baseball cards and has been crushing it with the sports card industry exploding since the pandemic began.

Topps enjoyed a nice bounce after The National in Chicago and have continued to innovate with their art-based online products this year, including Project 70. They then celebrated National Baseball Card Day earlier this month, a national event that drove thousands of collectors into local hobby shops.

On Wednesday, Topps announced their second quarter earnings: a 77.7% increase in net sales to $212.2 million. That’s a great bounce for the company’s finances.

Things were looking good.

Then Thursday afternoon came, and the news wasn’t as good.

In fact, Thursday was crushing for Topps.

The National Sports Collectors Convention
Courtesy: ESNY Staff

Sportico was the first to report that MLB and the MLBPA have ended their 70-year relationship with Topps. Instead, licensed baseball cards will be exclusive property of Fanatics beginning in 2025.

Fanatics is going all-in on the hobby, and isn’t limited its jump into cards to baseball.

MLB is joined by the NBA, the unions representing players in both leagues and the NFLPA in working out exclusive trading card licenses with a new company that will be controlled by Fanatics. In fact, all three unions are buying into the new venture; each union will get an equity stake in the new company.

MLBPA executive director Tony Clark told Front Office Sports the deal is the largest the union has ever done. New deals will bring in close to $2 billion through 2045. The deal with the MLBPA begins in 2023; Fanatics deal with MLB begins in 2026.

Topps was supposed to have a shareholders meeting during which there would be vote on a proposed merger between Topps and SPAC Mudrick Capital Acquisition Corporation II — a deal that would value the combined entity at $1.6 billion and result in a public listing.

The SPAC deal would have been a huge move for Topps, which has been owned for the past 14 years by Michael Eisner’s Tornante Company and Chicago-based private equity firm Madison Dearborn.

Friday morning, Sportico reported that deal has been terminated, according to a filing with the Securities & Exchange Commission submitted by the SPAC. According to the filing, Thursday’s news that MLB and the MLBPA were pulling out of the relationship killed the merger.

Eisner, formerly the chairman of Disney, was reportedly going to enjoy a $600 million payday in combination of cash and stock if the SPAC merger was finalized. Madison Dearborn was reportedly cashing out of its investment in Topps in the deal.

What does the future hold for Topps?

There may still be an opportunity for Fanatics to acquire the company and/or license its marks on their new card products. The huge increase in profits in recent months shows strong growth at Topps, but the loss of baseball as its core product after 70 years is a massive blow to the future of the company.

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