Update: Inside scoop on Panini/NFLPA/Fanatics drama: Expecting lawsuit announcement from Panini that will result in a stay of the current agreements. All 2023 products panini is expected to produce and release will still go out as expected.
The NFL Players Association informed player agents on Monday afternoon that it had terminated its deal granting player names and likenesses for Panini, a shocking development considering that the card maker had exclusive rights through the 2026 season.
The memo said that Panini competitor Fanatics, which had been set to take over rights in 2026, would receive the rights three years early.
In order for Fanatics to fully produce NFL cards as soon as the 2023 season, the deal between Panini and the NFL would have to crumble, too. Otherwise, Fanatics would be able to create cards with player names and likenesses — but not with team photos or names.
The news on Monday comes two weeks after Fanatics and Panini commenced a litigation battle, the highest profile spat in the trading card industry in over four decades.
First, Panini sued Fanatics for antitrust practices. Then, Fanatics countersued for unfair competition and torturous interference.
Recently, Fanatics has won key licenses with the NFL, NFLPA, MLB, MLBPA, NBA and NBPA. In addition to stripping the NFL deals away from Panini, Fanatics will take the NBA as well starting in 2026.
Panini had been the exclusive rights-holder for all NBA collectibles since the parties struck a deal in 2009. Panini had been the exclusive rights holder 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.
The recent deal is one of plenty that has gone Fanatics' way of late. The company acquired Topps and struck exclusive deals with the three largest American sports leagues. They're set to launch their sportsbook in 15 to 20 states. And earlier this summer, Fanatics bought out auction house PWCC, further consolidating its position in the collectibles space.
Panini, meanwhile, has fallen into the opposite trajectory. Plenty of Panini talent have taken up employment at Fanatics. And Fanatics routinely beat Panini to the punch at signing up-and-coming players months, and sometimes years ahead of their respective NFL and NBA Drafts, on account of NIL allowing them to do so. Panini's lack of initiative on that front could have been frowned upon by the leagues and unions as not exhibiting enough initiative, a source said.