Panini to Produce NCAA Sports Cards of Current Student Athletes

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Sports cards collectors are going to hear a lot of NIL in the months ahead. It took a big step forward last week with Panini and OneTeam announcing an exclusive partnership that covers student athletes on both physical and digital trading cards. Now Panini, who also holds exclusive deals with more than 200 schools, has announced an agreement with CLC that will enable them to make cards of current student athletes complete with collegiate logos and marks.

In essence, with deals with players and NCAA schools in place, collegiate sports cards are about to change in a major way.

First, let’s take a step back.

What is NIL?

It’s not ominous or an indication of some sort of dark void.

NIL is short for Name, Image and Likeness. In even simpler terms, it means students in American colleges and universities can now control and market themselves. They no longer risk losing their eligibility by having someone take them out for lunch.

Student athletes are now free to post sponsored content on social media. They can sign autographs at the National Sports Collectors Convention. They can even appear on sports cards while they’re still in school.

Collegiate Sports Cards Evolved

Until now, any commercial collegiate sports cards have looked back on a school’s history. You might find some school-issued releases given out as promos at games with current students but nothing traditionally packed based.

That’s about to change.

First the players.

Panini and OneTeam have announced an exclusive multi-year deal. Through it, Panini will make cards of those who are part of OneTeam’s College Athlete Group Licensing group. Student athletes from several sports will be featured including basketball, football, baseball and more.

“With its existing current college licenses, there is an amazing opportunity to make co-branded college and current college athlete cards for the first time in history – across schools and men’s and women’s sports,” said OneTeam CEO, Ahmad Nassar.

Next, the schools.

With NIL rules and guidelines still in their earliest stages, there was initially some uncertainty as to whether student athlete cards would carry full NCAA trademarks. Basically, would we be getting cards of players in their full school uniforms? Or would it be something more like generic uniforms or athletes in casual clothing?

The CLC announcement clarifies that. The final cards from Panini will have logos and trademarks. Athletes can be shown in their school uniforms.

“Panini’s leadership in the market and exclusive license agreement in the trading card category helps ensure each participating institution retains approval rights for when and how their logos are used in conjunction with any NIL trading card products,” said David Kirkpatrick, CLC Vice President of Non-Apparel Licensing.

Collectors will be able to buy cards in a variety of forms. For physical cards, current athletes will be included in regular collegiate products beginning later in the summer.

Prospecting Evolved

With current students getting sports cards, there are multiple repercussions. For starters, prospecting is bound to become even more entrenched in the hobby.

Prior to NIL, collectors were able to take deep dives into future stars in a variety of ways. Leaf’s partnership with the U.S. Army All-American Bowl provided Trevor Lawrence autographs in 2018, three years before he became the top pick in the NFL Draft.

USA Baseball has worked with several card companies over the decades including their current deal with Panini.

However, the college stage is bigger and brighter. A direct path to the pros, there’s also an increased sense of immediacy tied to it.

Another byproduct of Panini’s expanded NCAA products is the scope of sports it covers. While the major sports like baseball, basketball and football will likely continue to be among the biggest in the card industry, collegiate sports cover a lot of areas that are largely overlooked by sports cards. It also includes both men’s and women’s sports, opening up more possibilities.

It also means different types of product beyond traditional pack-based sets. This includes Panini Instant, print-on-demand cards sold for short periods of time through the company’s website. Panini’s OneTeam and CLC partnerships also cover digital trading cards using NFT and blockchain technology.

When you click on links to various merchants on this site, like eBay, and make a purchase, this can result in this site earning a commission.

Ryan Cracknell

A collector for much of his life, Ryan focuses primarily on building sets, Montreal Expos and interesting cards. He's also got one of the most comprehensive collections of John Jaha cards in existence (not that there are a lot of them). Got a question, story idea or want to get in touch? You can reach him by email and through Twitter @tradercracks.

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