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Volume 26 No. 113
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Panini Now NFL's Lone Trading Card, Sticker Rights Partner After New Long-Term Deal

Panini has signed a long-term contract securing the company exclusive trading-card and sticker rights with the NFL. The deal is a landmark of sorts, since it now means the trading-card business has reached the point where each of the big stick-and-ball leagues has exclusive trading-card deals. At its height in the '90s, the industry was three times larger and some leagues had as many as five trading-card licensees. "We have been working toward this deal since we first stepped into the U.S. market (in '09)," said Panini America CEO Mark Warsop, noting that NFL and MLB cards are about even in sales, depending on the year. Warsop: "We’re still a relatively new brand, but we’re strong on the hobby side of the business relative to the others." Panini’s deal, which takes effect April 1, displaces Topps, with which Panini had split NFL trading-card rights. Topps will continue as an NFL licensee for digital trading cards and it has an MLB exclusive trading-card license through '20. Upper Deck last year displaced Panini as the NHL's exclusive trading-card partner. Panini, which saw U.S trading-card sales jump around 30% this year, also has long-term rights with the NBA and collegiate sports, including more than 200 CLC-licensed colleges.

DEEP ROUTE: Without revealing specifics, Warsop said the NFL rights deal was the longest rights deal Panini has done "to date.'' Warsop: "With exclusive arrangements, there’s some concern from consumers about quality of product, but I believe we have proved our products are solid. And as an exclusive licensee, our marketing investment in the NFL will be more than twice what it was between the two licensees before this." Between Topps and Panini last year, there were 36 separate releases of NFL-licensed cards. Warsop said Panini will have somewhere between 30-36 releases next season, with activity beginning before the NFL Draft in late April. Panini in '14 signed an exclusive deal with the NFLPA. Those rights, which begin in '16, effectively blocked any competitors, unless they chose to produce cards without players’ names and likenesses. Securing NFL exclusivity is the latest in a six-year growth spurt that has seen Italy-based Panini transform itself into a major player in U.S. trading cards.