By Chris Olds | Beckett Baseball Editor
ARLINGTON, Texas | Panini America‘s goal when it first entered the United States’ sports collectibles market in 2009 was to have a presence in all four major sports.
It has that as of Thursday with its multi-year deal with the Major League Baseball Players Association unveiled at a news conference with representatives from the MLBPA and reigning American League MVP Josh Hamilton on hand as the new face of the company’s products.
It’s been a whirlwind affair for Panini America CEO Mark Warsop.
“When we first entered the U.S. market, it was one of our key initiatives, our mission if you like, to have a presence in all four U.S. major sports,” he said. “I am very pleased today to announce that we have accomplished that goal in probably a speedier time than we would have imagined.”
Evan Kaplan, the director of licensing for the MLBPA, reinforced what the essence of trading cards are all about.
“Baseball cards have always been about the players,” he said. “They’ve served as a great way for fans to connect with their favorite players. They’re commonly the first connection that a young fan makes with the game of baseball. Even in this era of digital downloads and applications, kids still clamor to collect their favorite baseball players’ cards.”
Kaplan also took the players’ presence back to the earliest years of cardboard.
“Baseball cards have always had a long and memorable place in the annals of history,” Kaplan said. “From the first cards that were minted just after the civil war, to the 1800s with the production of the first commercial cards to the golden age where Ty Cobb and Shoeless Joe Jackson, Cy Young were the faces of baseball. [Today,] avid fans young and old continue collect and buy the for the likenesses of modern-day greats such as Josh Hamilton, Derek Jeter, Joe Mauer, Roy Halladay just to name a few.”
Kaplan praised Panini’s global presence with distribution in more than 100 countries during the news conference, while Warsop took the time to detail Panini’s reach as well as its 50-year legacy of producing sports memorabilia outside the United States — a business that began with newspaper distribution with its stickers being a popular incentive to buy a paper.
“Panini is a licensing machine,” Warsop said. “We hold almost all the major sports federation licenses and a wealth of entertainment licenses such as Disney, Warner, Nickelodeon, Marvel, Dreamworks. At any one time we’ll hold as many as 400 licenses.
“Although we have had huge global success, we’ve never really had a presence here in the U.S. until 2009 when we were awarded the NBA trading card rights exclusively, and it was at that time we acquired all the assets of the Donruss trading card company … with that business, that brought to our company the skills and the assets to develop trading cards, which is a tradition in the U.S.”
Panini’s first release will be Donruss Elite, a prospect-driven product arriving in December with Hamilton’s first cardboard appearance coming in Playoff Contenders — his card was formally unveiled at the news conference.
Among Panini’s future plans are HRX video trading cards as well as the 24-karat gold cards that have been hits in its other sports’ offerings, Warsop said. It’s also not a reach to figure that many of the game-used memorabilia pieces acquired in the company’s 2009 purchase of the Donruss company could make their way into future offerings as well.
“Given the history of baseball and the history of the baseball card,” Warsop said, “this is an honor for us to enter the market at this time.”
Chris Olds is the editor of Beckett Baseball magazine. Have a comment, question or idea? Send an email to him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter by clicking here.
Below: Hamilton sees his Playoff Contenders card for the first time.