Fanatics to Buy Topps in $500M Deal as Trading Card Biz Zooms Into 2022

Fanatics has reached an agreement to acquire the Topps trading card business, according to people familiar with the plans, a move that will likely accelerate its recent push into the booming industry.

Michael Rubin’s company is paying nearly $500 million to buy Topps Sports & Entertainment, the business unit that includes physical cards and digital collectibles, according to the people, who were granted anonymity because the negotiations are private. The remainder of The Topps Co., including the Bazooka Candy Brands confectionary, will remain with the current owners, private equity firm Madison Dearborn and Michael Eisner’s Tornante Company, the people said.

A representative for Fanatics declined to comment. Representatives for Topps and Tornante didn’t immediately respond to emails seeking comment, while Madison Dearborn declined to comment.

Fanatics, the world’s largest seller of licensed sports apparel, shocked the trading card industry in August when it secured exclusive long-term trading card licenses from a handful of sports leagues and unions (including rights to MLB and MLBPA currently held by Topps). The news reshuffled the entire industry, which saw renewed interest during the pandemic, and scuttled a SPAC acquisition of Topps that valued the company at $1.6 billion.

Fanatics is bringing on about 350 Topps employees worldwide, including the infrastructure and expertise of one of the industry’s most prominent companies. The Topps name and branding will remain on cards, and much of the Topps leadership team, including global general manager David Leiner and Topps Digital executive Tobin Lent will remain in place, reporting to Fanatics vice chairman Doug Mack.

The move will also consolidate rights. Fanatics wasn’t set to have the combined MLB and MLBPA card licensing rights until after the 2025 season, but that timeline will accelerate now that Fanatics owns the current partner. Topps, which was founded in 1938, also has other global relationships with groups like UEFA, F1, the Bundesliga and Disney (Eisner’s former company), which are included in the deal.

Though it is yet to release a single product, Fanatics Trading Cards was valued at $10.4 billion in a funding round last year. Fanatics owns about 80% of the company, with investors that include private equity giant Silver Lake, talent agency Endeavor and VC firm Insight Partners. The NBA, NBPA, MLB, MLBPA and NFLPA, all of which have trading card deals with Fanatics that kick in in the next few years, will also be equity holders in the trading card venture, according to people familiar with the plans.

The Topps businesses not purchased by Fanatics—the candy and gift card divisions—have been renamed The Bazooka Companies, according to an announcement from Madison Dearborn and Tornante. Those two units did a combined $250 million in revenue in 2021, and will continue to be led by CEO Michael Brandstaedter. In addition, Tornante will have the rights to produce movies and television shows of certain Topps properties, such as the Garbage Pail Kids and the video game franchise MechWarrior/BattleTech, the company said.

Trading cards are just one piece of Fanatics’ goal to create a sports e-commerce empire. In addition to the core apparel business, the company is planning a sports betting vertical, and last year launched an NFT company alongside Michael Novogratz and Gary Vaynerchuk.

Topps was originally planning to go public in a $1.6 billion deal with Mudrick II, a SPAC led by value investor Jason Mudrick. That deal fell apart in August after news broke about the Fanatics licenses. Eisner was set to control the public company following the agreement and was on track for a $600 million payday in cash and stock.

(This story has been updated with the transaction value in the headline and second paragraph, along with details of Topps employees and management in the fifth paragraph, and information on Topps’ candy and gift card divisions in the eighth paragraph.)

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