Panini Ignores NFLPA By Launching Product Despite Losing License to Fanatics
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Panini began selling a new NFL trading card set on Wednesday — 2023 Luminance, with Jalen Hurts on the box at a retail price of $249.95 — despite earlier this week losing their license with the NFL Players Association to Fanatics.
The NFL Players Association informed Panini and agents earlier this week that the parties' licensing deal was over immediately, three years ahead of its contracted expiration.
Yet, with Wednesday's product launch, Panini ignored that edict.
"We think the [NFL] union's termination is improper and ineffective," David Boies, the attorney who is representing Panini in its antitrust lawsuit against Fanatics, told the Action Network.
Boies told the Action Network that Panini has filed a demand for arbitration with the American Arbitration Association late on Tuesday. If permitted, an independent arbiter will decide if the NFLPA is able to unilaterally cancel its licensing deal with Panini.
Panini had originally held the rights to players' names and likenesses until 2026 before the NFLPA pulled out of the deal on Monday in favor of an immediate transition to Fanatics.
Fanatics now gets exclusive rights to put players on cards. They cannot yet put team names and logos on cards because Panini, as of now, still has NFL rights.
Boies said his clients were blindsided by the NFLPA's transition to Fanatics, indicating that Panini and the NFLPA had spoken as recently as a few weeks ago. Sources said NFLPA representation was in Panini's offices just three weeks ago.
Panini still lists the NFLPA as a partner on its website.
The only way the NFLPA could immediately terminate the deal with no selloff period is if there was a material breach in the contract.
"The suggested breach is over 'a change in control,'" Boies said, referencing that the contract has a provision that states that if there is a management change, the NFLPA can terminate its deal.
In its lawsuit in April in Texas, Panini said that Fanatics had hired away seven "high-ranking" employees at Panini, among 34 total people. But Panini maintains that all seven employees were replaced in two weeks. Panini also said in the lawsuit that only two were vice presidents and only one reported to the CEO.
"The decision was made in the best interest of all players and we are not discussing anything beyond that at this time," NFLPA spokesman George Atallah told the Action Network on Wednesday. A Fanatics spokesman declined comment.
The news is an ongoing development in a historic battle between the world's two largest trading card companies.
First, Panini sued Fanatics earlier this month for antitrust practices. Then, Fanatics countersued, stating it was Panini's incompetence that led to the NFL, NBA and MLB to pull out of their deals.
Fanatics owns the future exclusive rights with the NFL, NFLPA, NBA, NBPA, MLB and MLBPA. Exclusive rights to produce NFL and NBA products were slated to be conferred in 2026 — before the NFLPA started the process of transitioning to Fanatics as soon as this year.
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.