Sports cards will be in heavy focus in 2022 as big changes loom at year’s end. (Photo by Hyoung … [+] Chang/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images)Denver Post via Getty Images
The sports card market was flipped on its axis when MLB awarded Fanatics both its MLBPA and MLB licenses in August 2021. The deal effectively ended Topps’ 70-year connection with baseball, as well as nixed Topps’ SPAC merger with Mudrick Capital. With Fanatics taking over the MLBPA license in 2023, there are many pressing questions about where the sports card industry is headed for 2022.
How will NFTs merge into the fabric of sports card collectibles?
When Topps announced its initial deal for a SPAC merger with Mudrick in April, chairman Michael Eisner saw how collectors have rapidly increased their interest in digital collectibles. The rise of NFTs offered Topps a way to participate in the booming secondary market, one they were missing out on with their traditional baseball cards.
“We bought it as an analog company with the goal of making it digital,” Eisner said. “We’re now about 25% digital. The digital is growing really fast. Now with blockchain, we can participate in the secondary market.”
Fanatics recognized this opportunity as well, jumping at the chance to partner with the league. Fanatics-owned Candy Digital entered a multi-year deal with MLB to produce NFTs. Candy Digital maintains full access to MLBs digital library, making the NFT possibilities endless in the future. This deal will allow both MLB and Fanatics to capture royalties on both the primary and secondary sales of these products.
Look for both companies to pursue opportunities on the blockchain in 2022, as collectors seek exclusive digital experiences with their favorite athletes.
Will the sports card market maintain its momentum into 2022?
The pandemic revived sports card market from 2020 sparked a boom that lasted well into 2021. With the rise of apps like Loupe, which are dedicated to live pack and box breaks, collectors have become increasingly comfortable watching these card exhibitions. For many, it’s their sole way to engage, as retail products continue to be scooped up by resellers. Consumers have been left with little choice but to get the pack opening experience through these live online breaks.
While secondary prices continue to remain high, they have softened from their peaks earlier this year. As collectors engaged in less FOMO-induced buying while prices hit untenable highs, major PSA 10 rookies of stars like Ronald Acuña Jr. saw a 25% decline in the just the past three months.
Collectors will be more likely to stay in the game if the market can improve its accessibility, especially on the retail side. However, if collectors must put up with another year of hard-to-find product or sky-high prices, they might start to look elsewhere for entertainment.
Will Fanatics pick up Topps before 2022 ends?
This is the burning question on most collectors’ minds. While the terms of Fanatics’ deal were undisclosed, the $20.4 million Topps paid the MLBPA in 2020 should be an indicator that it didn’t come cheaply. Topps’ MLBPA license ends after 2022, hindering its ability to use NIL rights for any of the current players on the 40-man rosters after that time. While this will likely cause Topps to shift towards its prospect heavy Bowman products in 2023, they can also continue to produce cards of retired players across its iconic sets.
Topps has its historic design library to reel in collectors; however, how engaged will they be if they will only be able to pick up minor leaguers or the retired stars who have been repeatedly rehashed in Topps’ products?
With Topps’ window closing to produce cards of current major leaguers, the entire collecting hobby will be watching attentively to see if Fanatics makes a play to land Topps. The legacy baseball card company has the name, infrastructure and intellectual property to give Fanatics an smooth on-ramp into sports card production once its MLBPA license kicks in to start 2023.
With all these factors at play, 2022 will be an unusual year for collectors. It might be the last time one sees current MLB players on Topps branded cards. Will this drive a rush to Topps’ products one more time as collectors scoop up what might be the last complete MLB cards (with players and logos) from a brand they love, or will Fanatics come in and preserve the Topps name for future generations?