Skip to main content

Fanatics has made its next move toward becoming a giant in the trading card industry.

Four months after it acquired the licenses to produce baseball, basketball and football cards beginning in 2023, Fanatics has bought longtime trading card company Topps.

Fanatics CEO Michael Rubin confirmed the deal via Twitter on Tuesday. It has been reported by multiple media outlets that the sale is for $500 million.

“With trading cards and collectibles being a significant pillar of our long-term plans to become the leading digital sports platform, we are excited to add a leading trading cards company to build out our business,” Rubin said in a press release. “Their iconic brand, commitment to product excellence and passionate employees worldwide will allow us to immediately serve our league and players’ association partners and our fans.”

Fanatics plans to keep the Topps brand, which has been synonymous with baseball cards for the past 70 years.

For those in the trading card industry, the move to buy Topps was almost expected. Sports Collectors Digest spoke with a number of industry leaders about the industry’s latest big news.

“I don’t think a lot of people were surprised by this,” Collectable CEO Ezra Levine said. “I think the idea that Fanatics was not going to make a major play and expedite their timeline was something that people weren’t really buying. Topps is obviously a household name, of course. It’s something that resonates with every collector, every investor in the category.

“I think people are generally pleased that Topps IP and their brand will survive and hopefully thrive under new management and new innovation. I think it certainly aligns with what the consumers were craving. It was a smart move by Fanatics.”

2021 Topps Baseball Update Series.

Tech entrepreneur and Sports Card Investor founder Geoff Wilson assumed Fanatics was going to try to obtain one of the card manufacturers, and Topps was the leading candidate.

“I thought it was the most attainable for them to probably get a hold of and their brands are frankly the most important, they have the most long-term equity in the hobby,” Wilson said. “I thought that Fanatics acquiring a brand would help them accelerate into the market more quickly to have all that existing infrastructure to be able to build on top of instead of having to start everything from scratch. I also think the consistency of Fanatics being able to carry Topps’ current brands into the future is really important for the transition to Fanatics to go smoothly.”

Collectors Universe CEO Nat Turner is a big collector and feels it was the right move for Topps and Fanatics.

“Topps had a one-to-one relationship with baseball, it seemed. From a card perspective, it was really just about baseball, and with the loss of the license from the long-term perspective, frankly, it kind of seemed like it was their best option,” Turner said.

“I’m not in the boardroom with them, but I have to think that you want to be the first one to sell in these situations. If Fanatics had bought someone else, then they wouldn’t have to pay as much for the next one. Now Fanatics has a brand in Topps that they can apply to other licenses and it doesn’t make the other companies as valuable. I think Topps was probably smart to be the first.”

Vintage Breaks and Just Collect Inc. founder Leighton Sheldon was excited to hear the news about the Topps sale when it broke late Monday night.

“I think it’s exciting for collectors, I think it’s exciting for investors, I think it’s exciting for dealers,” Sheldon said. “I think overall as a macro, it’s very exciting for the ecosystem. Basically, as far as I’m concerned, the Topps brand name was super important to live on, because even though I know that right now we feel like there’s this title wave in the industry and it’s moving with just incredible force, make no mistake, when you build a house, you need a foundation, and the foundation of the industry has been Topps for 50 years.”

Sheldon believes the deal is good for everyone in the hobby, including collectors, investors and hobby shops.

“I think everyone personally is breathing a sigh of relief and it’s a breath of fresh air that [it] happened a lot more quickly than everyone thought,” he said.

Fanatics, in a sense, forced Topps to consider a sale when it struck licensing deals with all three major sports. It’s deal with MLB Players Association was set to begin in 2023, with its deals with MLB, the NBA and its players association and the NFL Players Association taking effect in 2026.

Fanatics has acquired the exclusive rights to produce official trading cards from Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association.

Fanatics acquired the trading card rights to MLB. 

Topps was on the verge of going public in August in a deal that valued the company at more than $1 billion. But Fanatics’ exclusive agreement with MLB upended that deal, putting the future of Topps in question and paving the way for the sale.

Sooz Lulgjuraj, who was Topps’ marketing communications manager from 2014-19, believes the sale is a good move for collectors. She has a large following on Twitter and she received mixed reactions from collectors when she posted about the move on Monday night.

“I think all the previous things that had happened, we can’t control the fact that Fanatics came in and bought everything out, but this was probably the best possible course of action for collectors,” Lulgjuraj said. “I think this is actually the best thing for Fanatics; it has the brand equity and the brand name, 70 years of history for Topps. They continue to [produce] baseball cards and also the executives who were initially going to be in that SPAC (special purpose acquisition company) deal still get to make money back. I don’t know if it was as much as it would have been on the SPAC deal, but they make money back.

“For collectors, you still get baseball cards and it will continue. We didn’t know if it was going to continue past 71 years, but now we know it will continue for at least another 20.”

Heritage Auctions Executive Vice President Derek Grady believes Topps being able to continue to produce trading cards is just going to increase demand in the hobby.

“I think for anybody that’s a collector or in this business as a dealer or an auction house, the more people that enjoy our hobby, the better it is for everybody,” Grady said. “I hate to see it took a pandemic to take the hobby to another level where the shows are basically sold out, the attendance is crazy, The National was outstanding, the next National’s probably going to be outstanding. For lack of a better term, the hobby’s on steroids.”

Topps produced its first baseball cards in 1951, but it was the ’52 issue that has become the trademark for the company. It produced Mickey Mantle’s iconic rookie card, one year after Bowman’s release. Topps hasn’t missed a set since.

1952 Topps Baseball set available in Charitybuzz Trading Card Auction.

1952 Topps set. 

That longevity and brand recognition is what collectors love. The Topps name will live on, and — as it appears — Fanatics won’t mess with what will now be its flagship brand.

“Nobody wants Fanatics brand of trading cards, let’s just be clear about that,” Turner said. “I think collectors, myself included and hundreds of them who work at PSA, are very obstinate and we just like what we like. I think the fact that this frankly means that there won’t be Fanatics brand of trading cards is awesome. It kind of removes that possibility.”

Turner created a stir on social media when he tweeted “Topps Chrome basketball, here we come,” whetting the appetite of collectors.

“There are a lot of kind of old-school collectors where that idea is like bringing back the old brands into the sports they used to be in, and it’s like crazy exciting,” he said.

Industry leaders are excited about the possibility that Fanatics could bring back some of Topps’ most renowned products once its basketball and football licenses kick in. Topps has not produced basketball cards since 2009 Topps and Topps Chrome. It has not been able to put out a licensed football product since 2015. Panini owns the licenses to produce basketball and football cards with the Fanatics deals for those sports beginning in 2026.

Turner can’t wait to get his hands on some great Topps products that could be revived from years past.

“Personally, Topps, Bowman, Finest, Topps Chrome, those brands are going to survive, I guess and continue on,” Turner said. “The thing that most excites me … it will be a while it looks like, but we’re going to hopefully have Topps brands on basketball and football cards, which has been sorely missed, at least from my perspective.”

2018 Bowman Chrome Shohei Ohtani Orange Refractor.

2108 Bowman Chrome Shohei Ohtani rookie card. 

Said Lulgjuraj: “Those are two products for NBA and NFL that people are going to go crazy for, especially for me, I love Topps Chrome.”

Wilson is also excited by the opportunity for Topps to bring back its Chrome product. He believes it’s a staple for both football and basketball and emphasized that Topps does a good job with high-end products for baseball such as Transcendent and Diamond Icons. He would love to see those incorporated into the other major professional sports.

Levine agrees.

“It will be interesting to see what they do,” Levine said. “What’s interesting about this combination is now Fanatics can do some really interesting things with the legacy brands and new-age brands.”

Turner is hoping Fanatics will do a great job producing cards and keep the industry on a high note.

“The jury is still out if Fanatics is going to do the right thing from a … products standpoint,” he said. “I think a lot of us collectors have been disappointed with how the manufacturers have overproduced and sticker autographs — cut a lot of corners. You can say it’s COVID, but I mean they’re still printing like crazy. I’m very hopeful. I think change is a good thing.

“The jury is still out, though, on will Fanatics make Topps even better. I think they will. I hope they will.”

Since Fanatics has made two major deals in the last four months with its licensing deals and purchasing Topps, more moves might be in store sooner than later.

“It’s an aggressive global company,” Grady said. “Who knows what’s next. I wouldn’t bet against them. … The sky’s the limit. I’m curious to see what they do next.”

Turner, who was part of the group that bought Collectors Universe last year, is predicting Fanatics and Rubin aren’t done.

“If I’ve learned anything, Rubin is the dealmaker of the century, and kudos to him,” Turner said. “I’d be shocked if he doesn’t have more tricks up his sleeve.”