In a move that will further consolidate the sports card market, Panini and the NFL Players Association plan to announce on Thursday that they have entered into an exclusive multiyear agreement, meaning all major sports leagues now have only one licensee in the category. Terms were not disclosed.
Panini, which will gain full control of the NFL in the 2016 season, also has an exclusive deal with the NBA. Topps is the sole licensee of Major League Baseball cards, and Upper Deck maintains exclusive rights to NHL trading cards.
Panini America CEO Mark Warsop told ESPN.com that he believes the football card market topped the baseball card market for the first time in 2012 and will do so again in 2014.
"The NFL is just a beast," Warsop said. "And we believe that, going forward, it will be No. 1 more and more often."
Under the current contract, Panini and Topps were allowed to have 17 releases a year. Warsop said the new exclusive deal would allow them to expand their number of offerings as well as participate in out-of-the-box ideas that the company couldn't do in a competitive environment.
"I want to get kids back to collecting sets again," Warsop said. "And if that means that we could have a product whose packs sell for 50 cents, and make no money on it, to grow the category, we can now do that."
Keith Gordon, president of NFL Players Inc., the marketing arm of the union, said the time was right to go down to one partner.
"For us, the category had to evolve in order for us to grow the business and return value to our players," Gordon said. "We're the last of the leagues to do this and we feel like, after a correction from consolidation, the business will grow."
Warsop said he's not concerned about the public complaining about the monopoly that Panini, including its subsidiary brands Donruss and Playoff, will now hold in the marketplace. The company offers packs that retail from $1.99 up to $1,000 a pack.
"We have so many different brands within our brand that the consumer does have the choice," Warsop said.
Fans have already been focusing on Panini's prior investment in Johnny Manziel, who signed an exclusive autographed memorabilia deal with the company.