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Volume 21 No. 2
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Five more years for Panini’s NBA trading card deal

The NBA surprised the trading card industry in 2009 when it signed a virtual unknown brand in Panini while dropping two household names in Topps and Upper Deck. At the time, Panini had no U.S. offices nor staff. However, the deal has been successful enough that it’s been extended for another five years, through the 2016-17 NBA season.

“The NBA was our foothold here,’’ said Panini America CEO Mark Warsop, “but since our first full year in the U.S. [2010], overall sales have grown threefold, even with some labor unrest across sports.’’

The renewal underscores the investments that the Italian company has made since entering the North American market in mid-2009. Since then, Panini started selling NBA cards and stickers in 40 countries, and has acquired NFL/NFLPA rights with its acquisition of Donruss, NHL/NHLPA rights, MLBPA rights and premier athletes’ rights, including Kobe Bryant, Andrew Luck and Kevin Durant.

Overall, Panini has signed more than 5,300 total player contracts across all four big stick-and-ball sports totaling more than $50 million in endorsements, rights and memorabilia deals.

“The trading card market has changed considerably over the last five to 10 years and we felt that the investments necessary to find growth in that market here, and especially globally, were something only Panini could do,” said Sal LaRocca, NBA executive vice president of global merchandising.

Under its new NBA deal, Panini has expanded global rights, allowing it, for example, to sell a Chinese-language version of NBA cards in the world’s most populous country. It can also issue as many as 25 annual NBA releases; this season it will have 22.

In a trading card market devastated by saturation, the two domestic survivors are Panini and Topps. The former has deep pockets and access to global markets. Topps, headed by former Disney chief Michael Eisner and owned by a private equity firm, has had an exclusive license since 2009 with MLB — the keys to the kingdom in the trading card business.

Colin Hagen, who once ran the trading card businesses for the NFL and MLB, said the market is still recovering from over-proliferation. “In 2005, the four MLB licenses produced 270 separate Alex Rodriguez cards,” said Hagen, who now heads Alchemy Marketing, Weston, Conn. “With exclusives, the business has readjusted. There will always be a market there, just not as big as it was.”