Reports: Panini Can Continue Producing Football Cards… For Now
Have you been concerned over whether Panini football products will appear for this season? Of course, you are.
But we have good news on that front. The NFLPA’s emergency appeal to stop Panini from issuing licensed football cards has been denied. That means that the NFL cards for 2023 will likely appear as planned. What it means for the longer term is more difficult to tell.
But we have some answers. We unpack it all in our overview of how the NFLPA attempt to stop Panini was denied.
How the NFLPA attempt to stop Panini was denied
The official court documents have yet to be released, but reports surfaced that the NFLPA emergency appeal to prevent Panini from issuing football cards for the 2023 season was denied. According to a report in Front Office Sports, a licensed arbitrator issued the decision on September 30, 2023.
Panini lawyer Stuart Singer of Boies Schiller Flexner LLP stated:
“Panini is pleased that the NFLPA’s request for emergency relief has been denied. Panini will move forward with the production and sale of fully licensed NFL player trading cards pursuant to the license agreement it holds, which it has and will continue to outperform in all aspects.
Just like the WWE’s denial last week, the decision to deny the NFLPI’s emergency relief is an important win for Panini’s mass retail partners, hobby stores, case breakers, and most importantly, trading card fans.”
If this is true, it is good news for fans of Panini products. It means that we will get to enjoy all the products we have gotten used to, such as Optic, Select, and Prizm, which will be coming out for at least another year.
Indeed, it may well mean that Panini will be able to produce its existing card products and even add new ones for the next two years.
Background on the legal battles between Panini and the NFLPA
The latest deal between Panini and the NFLPA was signed in 2021. The card company paid the organization $27 million for the privilege. On August 21, 2023, the NFLPA announced to their various stakeholders that their contract deal with Panini for exclusive rights to produce football cards with the players’ images on them had been terminated.
The organization’s letter states, “Effective immediately, Fanatics has the exclusive right to make NFLPA-branded trading cards.” Henceforth, they said, all NFLPA-licensed cards would subsequently be made by Fanatics through their subsidiary company Topps.
The deal made between the NFLPA and Fanatics would not stop the production of products made through individual agreements with football players. However, it would impede the company from releasing licensed versions of its most beloved football products, such as Prizm, Optic, and Donruss.
But now the road appears to be clear for Panini to continue producing NFL cards. However, there will almost certainly be other developments before the contract expires in 2026.
Panini responded with fighting words: “We believe this was an unwarranted and improper action by the NFL Players Association in conjunction with Fanatics, especially in light of the unprecedented sales by Panini of NFL trading cards. Panini has grown the category of sports trading cards by over 1,000 percent since 2009, to the benefit of all concerned. We believe the only party who benefits from this action by the NFL Players Association is Fanatics, not the players, the leagues, or consumers. We note that in addition to the NFL Players Association license, Panini has licenses with the NFL and over 360 individual players. Panini will honor all of its contractual obligations.”
An attempt to put Panini out of business?
Panini’s days appeared numbered when Fanatics obtained the exclusive rights to manufacture licensed football and basketball cards starting in 2025. However, Fanatics did not wish to wait that long to see its rival put out of business. They have allegedly taken several acts to curtail the abilities of their main rivals.
In June of this year, Panini sued Fanatics for allegedly poaching several executives from the company and using that opportunity to get trade secrets out of those employees. That case is set to go to trial in April 2024.
Panini filed an anti-trust lawsuit alleging that it had taken many other steps to jeopardize its position in the card market. Indeed, according to the case: “Fanatics has done all this Anticompetitive Conduct to monopolize the markets for Major U.S. Professional Sports Leagues trading cards (and others) even before its exclusives begin. In short, Fanatics seeks to cripple Panini both for the short term— the remaining years on Panini’s current exclusive license agreements—and the long term.” Panini has also claimed that Fanatics have tried to buy Panini in its entirety but were unsuccessful. So they took steps such as taking ownership of the company that prints their cards.
Meanwhile, Fanatics has countersued and claims that Panini has been trying to “block Fanatics’ hard-earned success through a series of tortious, unfair, and unlawful actions.” The motive for these lawsuits, according to Fanatics, is the substandard business practices of Panini, such as their reliance on redemptions, etc. Therefore, according to Fanatics’ lawyers, Panini “failed to capitalize on opportunities that stood to benefit collectors and business partners.” The lawsuits, they say, are part of “a campaign of dirty tricks.”
What it means that the NFLPA attempt to stop Panini has been denied
This is excellent news for Panini. As we reported here, after the NFLPA sued Panini and tried to get out of its existing contract with the card company, the WWE followed suit.
The wrestling federation claimed that Panini had previously breached their contract by not producing all the promised products. However, few believe they are doing so because they are concerned about Panini’s performance. Indeed, they have had no complaints on the matter thus far.
Instead, it is likely that they have received a better offer from Fanatics and are looking for a reason to opt out. The WWE and Panini have a contract that is not due to expire until 2026.
Panini was happy to see an arbitrator rule against a temporary restraining order filed by the WWE. The order was meant to stop Panini from producing licensed wrestling cards. However, now they can continue WWE releases as planned.
There is little doubt that other sports and players associations would have followed if these motions had been successful. Of most concern to Panini, of course, is the NBA, which, alongside the NFL, is their principal cash cow.
But the arbitrators are so far not amused by the heavy-handed attempts of the WWE and NFLPA to get out of binding legal contracts. T
hat would seem to bode well for Panini’s chances in court against both organizations. It also may deter other leagues and players organizations from following the same route in the future.
Final word on how the NFLPA attempt to stop Panini was denied
We don’t know what the long-term future holds. Panini continues to operate under siege from Fanatics and is spending a lot of the capital it has left fighting in court against the unlimited pockets of Fanatics.
However, this short-term victory for Panini means that they will likely produce the slate of products we have gotten used to. That will relieve fans because chaos and uncertainty were the only likely alternative.
On a larger scale, this indicates (as we suspected) that Panini has a more robust legal foot to stand on than the leagues trying to pull out of contracts prematurely. It means there is a good chance the two-headed structure of the industry will continue for the time being.
If there is one thing we can count on, it’s more fireworks and clashes between these two companies and leagues and organizations owning licensing rights. To say they are spiteful and litigious would be an understatement.