No More Topps Baseball Cards? The Latest Update
In one of the most surprising card collecting plot twists of all time, Topps has lost its exclusive contract to make authorized baseball cards. In another plot twist, Fanatics just bought Topps and looks poised to utilize their knowledge and employees to make new baseball cards.
So what does this mean for Topps baseball cards? What does it mean for baseball cards in general? Read on for all the Topps cards updates we have and an overview of what we think will happen next.
A Brief History of Topps Baseball Cards
Topps actually started as a chewing gum company in 1938. In 1951, they began selling baseball cards for kids to play "card baseball" with their sets. This launched a 70-year legacy of baseball cards with the company.
Topps cards quickly took off and became hugely popular with collectors of all ages. 1952 saw Topps' first "real" set of baseball cards, complete with stats and bios. The company continued this general idea with baseball cards, and it became the staple that all other companies would copy over the decades.
For a while, Topps was the only real player in the baseball card game, but that changed in 1981 when a federal judge broke up Topps' sports card monopoly. Fleer and Donruss entered the market with baseball card sets of their own and became fierce competitors with Topps.
Topps and other companies began adding "insert cards" to their packs. These special cards were often for special sets, and some even contained players' autographs or used memorabilia. With these insert cards, baseball card collecting reached new heights of demand and value.
However, the competition slowly died or was bought out, and by 2011, Topps was the only fully licensed baseball card manufacturer. Panini held a partial license with MLB under the Donruss brand, but they can't use team names or logos on any of the baseball cards.
By 2021, Topps was the biggest and practically only player in the baseball card game, and they were looking to take the company public. But all that changed when MLB made a surprise deal with Fanatics.
MLB's Deal With Fanatics
In August 2021, MLB announced that they were cutting an exclusive deal with the sports company Fanatics. After the old deal with Topps expired, Fanatics would be the exclusive licensee for official MLB baseball cards. Panini, too, would lose out on its contract for player images and names on their cards.
The move came as a surprise to the entire industry. Topps had been a staple of baseball card collecting for so long, it was hard to imagine anyone else taking their place. And yet, here we are.
Fanatics is already heavily invested in the sports industry, selling gear, memorabilia, and other licensed sports merchandise for baseball, football, basketball, and other major sports. Now they're going to be selling baseball cards along with memorabilia and other merchandise, which could open up myriad possibilities for them.
MLB's current deal with Topps doesn't expire until 2025, so people were anticipating a few more years of Topps cards before 2026. After that, Fanatics would have exclusive manufacturing rights for baseball cards.
Fanatics Buying Topps
However, the most recent Topps baseball updates have changed much of the speculation. Many analysts had wondered if Fanatics would buy Topps to use their expertise and equipment. It was announced this week that the company would indeed be buying Topps for approximately half a billion dollars.
This means that Fanatics could begin producing baseball cards immediately. It could potentially continue them under the Topps brand, although it may add brands of its own.
This latest Topps news is still fresh off the presses, so it remains to be seen what Fanatics' plan for baseball cards is now that they own Topps.
What Do We Know For Sure?
We don't actually know a lot about what the future of baseball cards will look like. There's a lot of speculation of what the cards themselves could look like as well as how the market will change, but much of it is simply that: speculation.
Before their acquisition of Topps, Fanatics had not said much about its future plans. They do reportedly want to offer more "direct-to-consumer" products. This might include selling trading cards directly to consumers from their website and sports arenas.
However, instead of waiting to produce baseball cards until 2026, Fanatics will now be able to start producing cards immediately. How the business models and production will look is still unknown, but we can make a few educated guesses.
What Does the Industry Look Like Right Now?
One unexpected side effect of the COVID-19 pandemic was the huge boom in card collecting, as many people reconnected with the hobbies of their childhoods. Even before the news of MLB's deal with Fanatics, baseball card collecting was skyrocketing.
Unfortunately, along with this increased interest also came a huge demand that outstripped production and availability. Many stores ran out of sports cards entirely, and others had to institute limits on how many packs or boxes customers could buy.
eBay saw record-breaking sales of trading cards, including baseball and other sports cards. It seems likely that the demand for baseball cards will continue through 2022, and collectors are sure to keep clamoring for more.
However, with this recent takeover, it's unsure what the new products will look like. Will Fanatics dramatically upend the market, or will they simply put a new label on relatively similar products to what's been made before?
What Will Fanatics Do?
With the latest Topps baseball news, collectors and industry specialists are eagerly waiting to see what will happen with baseball card collecting in the future. In the short run, it seems that Fanatics has a few major options now that it's acquired Topps.
First, they could continue business as usual and keep producing cards under the Topps brand. They will probably continue to see the demand outpace the supply, but if they continue as normal, they may not try to fix that in the short run.
Second, they could decide to really lean into high-end, valuable cards and sets. This will likely drive the demand even higher as hobbyists clamor for expensive cards and pulls, while making the hobby more exclusive. Many people hope this doesn't turn out to be the case, as it's already becoming an expensive hobby, particularly for beginners and kids.
Third, they could go the opposite route and flood the market with inexpensive cards, taking advantage of the increased demand. If they prioritize quantity over quality, this will drive down the value of their new cards quite a bit. However, it would help revitalize interest among people unwilling to invest hundreds or thousands of dollars.
They could also go an unknown route, breaking out of the established mold. Fanatics might try to go for a mix, producing some high-end sets for the avid collectors, while also creating cheap, low-end sets for the casual hobbyists.
What Will the Industry Look Like Down the Line?
Although the pandemic will almost certainly have died down by 2026, its effects will still be felt for years to come. That means that, among other things, card collecting is still likely to be quite popular.
With these recent developments, it's hard to know for sure what baseball cards will look like in the future. It seems likely that Fanatics hopes to radically transform the industry, although how they specifically plan to do that remains to be seen.
As mentioned earlier, they do plan on providing a more "direct-to-consumer" approach. This likely means they hope to alleviate many of the supply issues that have been plaguing stores by allowing collectors to buy directly from Fanatics. However, it seems likely that they will also try to build a platform that does more than just sells boxes of cards.
What We Might See
Topps' Million Card Giveaway and subsequent giveaways may provide a possible glimpse of what Fanatics hopes to do in the long run. Collectors were able to enter codes and get cards online, which they could trade or ship to their homes.
Fanatics may try to build on this by allowing collectors to buy, sell, trade, and collect cards online, only shipping them when they're ready to hold them in hand.
It seems likely that they will try to continue selling cards in hobby stores and retail outlets, although in what capacity remains to be seen. Will they have a new brand of Fanatics Baseball lining the shelves instead of Topps, or will things be the same as they have been for years? Nobody is quite certain.
What we will almost certainly see is change of some sort. Fanatics doesn't seem likely to keep things exactly the way they have been. Fans will probably be able to buy cards more easily at baseball fields, and might even be able to sell and trade them there as well.
There's a strong possibility we will see more cross-promotional sales at some point in the future. Buy a jersey, get a box of baseball cards, or vice versa. Fanatics seems determined to provide the definitive sports fan experience in as many ways as possible, as they've shown with their interest in the sports betting world as well.
No matter what happens, we will almost certainly see a larger online presence for card collecting. Hopefully, this will come with many more choices for collectors of all levels.
What This Means For the Future of Collecting
The good news is, it doesn't look like baseball cards are going away anytime soon. Fanatics looks ready to capitalize on the industry's high demand, and may even help to boost it to new heights among collectors.
Depending on whether Fanatics retires the Topps brand or not, older Topps cards may see an increase in demand. Even if the Topps brand continues, if the market continues to grow, we will likely see an uptick in demand for older cards as well.
There are really two major ways baseball card collecting could go, and nobody's quite certain which of the ways Fanatics will take. Until we find out more, it's simply speculation.
It could become an elite hobby, with high-dollar boxes and packs making up the bulk of the cards and low-end series discontinued entirely. This would probably drive an increasing demand for older (meaning not the current year) cards for collectors who don't want to spend big dollars.
However, it would probably shrink the overall collector base in the following decades, as fewer new collectors join the hobby.
If they go for the broad market appeal, Fanatics could increase the number of new collectors. However, they would walk a tight line of scaring off many of the big-money investors who want the high-dollar cards. This would bring in many more people to the hobby, but the cards would probably not be worth as much as a whole.
Hopefully, they can see their way to finding a balance between the two. Expanding access for cheap, fun cards for new collectors while maintaining the expensive pulls for the serious hobbyists would be a boon to all collectors. Now it's time to see if they can pull it off.
Read The Latest Baseball Card News!
This week's industry news will doubtless cause waves for quite some time, and it will be interesting to see what happens with Topps and Fanatics. But no matter what happens, Topps baseball cards are almost certainly going to be changing in the near future. Whether the change is good is still to be decided.
But we'd love to hear your thoughts! Feel free to contact us to share your hopes for the baseball card industry or to ask us any questions you might have. We want you to have all the knowledge to help you enjoy this hobby to the fullest!