On Monday afternoon, the NFL Players Association delivered the surprising news to player agents that their agreement with Panini, which had provided exclusive rights for player names and likenesses up until the 2026 season, had been abruptly terminated.

According to the memo, Fanatics, a rival of Panini, was set to acquire the rights in 2026, but the memo disclosed a change whereby Fanatics would now gain these rights three years ahead of schedule.

For Fanatics to be able to produce NFL cards starting from the 2023 season, not only would Panini's agreement with the NFL need to dissolve, but Fanatics would also need the rights to team photos and names, in addition to player names and likenesses.

The Monday announcement arrives following a two-week period in which Fanatics and Panini engaged in a legal dispute, marking the most significant conflict within the trading card industry in more than 40 years.

Initially, Panini initiated a lawsuit against Fanatics on grounds of antitrust practices. Then, Fanatics responded with a countersuit, alleging unfair competition and tortious interference.

Recently, Fanatics has secured significant licenses from major sports organisations including the NFL, NFLPA, MLB, MLBPA, NBA, and NBPA. In addition to acquiring the NFL rights from Panini, Fanatics is set to assume control over the NBA rights starting from 2026.

Since a deal was forged in 2009, Panini had held exclusive rights to all NBA collectibles. Similarly, Panini had maintained exclusive rights for the NFL since 2016.

Panini argued that Fanatics was creating a monopoly.

In turn, Fanatics countersued and said the leagues and unions chose to do business away from Panini due to their incompetence.

“The NFLPA is very well aware of the legal battle going on with Panini and Fanatics,” said one agent, who requested anonymity. “The NFLPA has to have a lot to back up doing this now.”

Attempts to reach attorney David Boies — who is representing Panini in the antitrust suit were unsuccessful.

A representative for Fanatics was also not immediately available for comment.

Lately, Fanatics has been on a winning streak in terms of deals. The company not only acquired Topps but also secured exclusive agreements with the three largest American sports leagues. Moreover, they are preparing to introduce their sportsbook in 15 to 20 states. Adding to this, Fanatics recently purchased auction house PWCC, solidifying its presence in the collectibles sector.

On the other hand, Panini has experienced a contrasting trajectory. Numerous skilled individuals from Panini have joined the ranks of Fanatics. Moreover, Fanatics consistently outpaced Panini in securing commitments from emerging athletes, often months or even years before their respective NFL and NBA Drafts. This advantage was due to the NIL framework enabling such early engagements. Sources suggested that Panini's comparatively limited proactive approach in this aspect might have drawn disapproval from the leagues and unions, citing a lack of initiative.

Will we see Fanatics acquiring Panini by the end of the year?

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