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NFLPA’s Abrupt Panini Move Fuels Fanatics’ Meteoric Rise

  • The NFLPA shockingly and abruptly ended its licensing deal with Panini three years early.
  • Fanatics is now the NFLPA's new exclusive trading cards partner for the next 20 years.
Design: Alex Brooks

The NFL is good at creating headlines all year long — and just over two weeks before the 2023 season kicks off, a wild story is playing out at one of the biggest companies in sports.

On Monday, the NFLPA shockingly and abruptly ended its licensing deal with Panini — paving the way for Fanatics to become its exclusive trading cards partner three years before it was set to do so. Panini’s deal began in 2016 and was set to run until 2026. 

Financial terms of the deals are unclear, but Panini reportedly paid the NFLPA $24.2 million in 2020.

Fanatical Moves

Fanatics — recently valued at $31 billion — has been making significant moves in the sports collectibles space.

In 2022, the company acquired Topps — previously a top rival of Panini. Just this month, Panini filed an antitrust suit against Fanatics, claiming the company violated federal law with its dominant entry into the trading card business. Fanatics also bought part of vintage sports jersey maker Mitchell & Ness last year.

The NFLPA situation is an interesting one on several fronts. Fanatics is already a partner with the NFL and actually received a $320 million investment from the league last year. This brings synergy to its NFL efforts — which could be why getting the NFLPA deal started immediately was crucial for Fanatics. The company is now under contract for the next 20 years. 

Fanatics also has deals with players associations in the NBA and MLB, but the NHLPA has a long-term contract with Upper Deck.

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