Sports Cards War Ignites


Fanatics and Panini are suing one another.

There is a sports trading card war brewing between Panini, an Italian company that holds licenses for sports cards in North America and Fanatics, an American sports card and memorabilia company, that also has licenses to print cards of various sports leagues including Major League Baseball through its TOPPS brand. Panini has filed a lawsuit against Fanatics, accusing Fanatics of engaging in a variety of anticompetitive practices. Fanatics responded with a lawsuit that claimed Panini resorted to unfair and deceptive business practices in retaliation for losing licenses. Additionally, Panini has lost its license with the National Football League Players Association to issue 2023 cards except the company has put out those cards. Panini had the rights to players’ names and likenesses until 2026. Fanatics now has exclusive rights to put players on cards but cannot use team names and logos on cards because Panini still has an NFL trading cards partnership.

There is money to be made in cards. About 45 years ago, a bubble gum company named Fleer wanted a piece of the baseball card market and sued TOPPS and the Major League Baseball Players Association for conspiring to shut them out of the marketplace. On June 30th, 1980, a district court found that Topps and the MLBPA did act in concert to exclude Topps’ competitors and were in violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act by having restrained trade in the baseball card market. That opened the door to not only Fleer but another company named Donruss to get the needed licenses from Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association to sell a baseball card product in 1981. By 1988, each Major League Baseball player was getting $18,000 annually just for having a picture on a card made by TOPPS, Fleer,  Donruss, and Sportflics. There is money in sports cards.

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