Wednesday, January 28, 2009

What a Day in the World of Sports Cards Huh???

I don't think I've ever seen the Hobby world more abuzz by all the news that showed up today.

First Donruss gets sued by MLB Properties (all stories, by the way, are courtesy of Chris Olds of Beckett). My question is...what took MLB so long??? Donruss had to know they were walking a fine line creating baseball cards, even though they were not licensed by MLB Properties. I mean it's great that they were mixing younger players with retired stars. And because the company was not restricted by the rules that UD and Topps are currently abiding by, they could even create cards of guys that have been banned from the sport like Joe Jackson and Pete Rose. Now while this is not necessarily a bad thing, the lawsuit stems from the fact that Donruss did not take out the logos trademarked and licensed by MLB Properties. As the MLB Properties states in their lawsuit:

"MLBP has been damaged and has suffered, and continues to suffer, immediate and irreparable injury for which it has no adequate remedy at law. The cards are likely to cause confusion, mistake or deception as to the source or origin of such trading cards and are likely to cause consumers to draw the false impression that Donruss and/or its trading cards are associated with, authorized, endorsed or sponsored by, or that Donruss is a sponsor of MLBP, MLB, MiLB, and other corporate properties."

Sure they did do some airbrushing on some cards, but in many cases, you could still see the team logo or team lettering that is league property. Although I don't collect the brand, I was hoping that MLB Properties would re-license Donruss in time for the 2010 season. I think this lawsuit ended any chances of this happening in the immediate future. The results from this lawsuit can affect other unlicensed products, specifically one Razor Collectibles who doesn't even have a license. I don't see Donruss winning this battle.

Then, in probably the biggest news in the Hobby since the MLBP overhauled their licenses, the NBA announces that Panini will be the sole manufacturer to produce basketball cards for the league. In layman's terms, this means that Upper Deck and Topps will not be able to produce licensed NBA cards for the next three years!!!

What does this all mean?

For those familiar with Panini, they are a company based in Italy who's been in the collectibles industry for a very long time. Growing up in the Philippines, and even my first few years in the US, Panini produced stickers and albums of various themes, whether it be sports (they did Baseball for a long time), dinosaurs, Barbie, Thundercats, you name it, kids ate them up. I personally loved the dinosaurs album they came up with in the early 80's. I must have bought tons and tons of packs, and carried that album everywhere. It was always a thrill to complete a page in the album, or better yet, complete one of those two-sticker, or four-sticker pictures, making sure that each one fit just right on the page (even if it meant that the stickers overlapped each other). I guess looking back, collecting Panini's stickers and using the album are the reasons why I have the mindset I do when it comes to baseball cards.

My favorite Panini product of all time...can these guys really make good NBA cards???

Back to the point. This has to be a huge blow to both Topps and UD. Reading further, the idea of one company making NBA cards has been a topic of discussion for quite some time. Supposedly, the NHL has had success having just Upper Deck as their league's exclusive card manufacturer (tell that to the collectors though...). And I guess talks between both companies and the NBA Properties were going to that direction. I don't think anybody saw Panini coming though.

Even before the NBA became this international global conglomerate we know of today, basketball was a very popular sport around the world. The 1992 Olympics and the Dream Team that crushed every team in it's path for the gold only helped bring the game's, and the league's popularity, to new heights. And today, many of the star's in the NBA are from other countries. It only makes sense for the NBA, if they want to continue having that world wide presence, work with a company whose name is known the world over. And lets face it, while the prices in the secondary market for current basketball cards can reach heights only the rarest baseball cards can every dream of reaching, the market for basketball cards seems to be pretty small compared to those who collect baseball, American football (not to be confused with football, aka soccer), and even hockey, in the United States/Canada.

How is this going to affect other sports??? The deal with the MLB Properties is going to expire soon...will they try this tactic? Has the NFL been considering the same thing? We know the NHL is already has their exclusive company, who's to say that the other sports aren't mulling over the same thing? And if so, who would win??? Would it be Topps, who has been around for 59 years in baseball, and 53 years in football? Would it be UD, whose innovations and use of technology has created the market we see today? Would Donruss, who in many football collector's opinions, step up and become the exclusive home for NFL football cards (pending lawsuit aside)? What does this all mean for the companies now?

With the economy tanking, and Topps and UD both cutting back products in all categories, Panini and the NBA have agreed to make at least 15-20 products for the basketball collecting market. I get the feeling that there will be some products exclusively marketed towards the US/North American market and others exclusively for Europe/Asia. Who's even to say that it's all going to be in cards? I'm sure there will be stickers...LOTS OF STICKERS.

While UD has been making NBA cards since 1991, Topps has had an on again-off again relationship with the league. Sure they've been celebrating 51 years making NBA cards, but there have been a number of years where there were no Topps basketball cards. Prior to this recent string of products (1992-2009), Topps was only around in 1957-58, took a ten year hiatus, came back for the 1968-69 season as a test product before creating products for the NBA between 1969-1982.

Now what does all of this have to do with baseball? Is any of this going to affect the Topps products we collect? In the short term, probably not. Unless the MLB Properties decides to say "it doesn't matter how long you've been around, Topps, you're gone," there will always be Topps baseball cards. But now that they don't have to deal with the NBA anymore, and it seems they won't be asking for an NHL license any time soon, maybe, just maybe, they can now focus their energies towards creating quality baseball, and yes football, cards that we will actually enjoy. And who knows, maybe Topps will bring back the baseball stickers and album. That would be fantastic.

I close tonight with the Topps press release, taken from Beckett, regarding their take on the NBA/Panini agreement:

We’ve had a strong relationship with the NBA, but the deal they made with Panini does not make economic sense for Topps,” said Topps in a statement. “It may be great for the NBA, but the value wasn’t there for us and we’ve decided to invest elsewhere for the time being. We wish our colleagues at theNBA well and look forward to working with them in the future.

I do want to congratulate Panini on this news, and wish them all the best. For those of you wishing that this didn't happen, it's only going to be three years. That may seem like a lifetime now, but it's going to go by pretty fast. Maybe after this three years, we'll see Topps and UD return to the game. Let's just wait and see what happens.


JayBee Anama


TDLindgren said...

Seems to be a financial move at least for the NBA and Topps. There are a lot of companies that have to make tough choices during this recession. Let's hope Topps continues with Baseball at least. During these times, we need hobbies that gets us away from reality to help get us through.

William said...

I don't think it really matters. I help out at a card shop and really, you can't GIVE basketball cards away. The NBA can't market themselves out of a paper bag right now. I'd rather Topps be able to concentrate on baseball. That being said, if I only had Upper Deck to choose from, I would be out of the hobby again.

Anonymous said...


I have read your comments around the blogosphere and I think you may have "it" nailed about Panini, where many others don't.

As you very simply and clearly state -
'Football' is soccer to everyone outside the US.

I am, of course, a Texan by birth ;) ... but I am also an American.

To me, there are a ton of Americans who combine the dictionary definitions of "xenophobia" and "narcissism" and don't really think before they spout off about whatever topic is on the table.

Hey, America is a great country (and Texas is a better one ... hehehe ...), but we are not alone on this planet. We'd all do well to remember that.

Thanks for being one of the few voices of reason ...