NBA explains decision to go with Panini

The opportunity to expand sales overseas and the simple notion that it needed to move its trading card business in a new direction were the NBA’s primary factors in choosing Panini to become its exclusive trading card licensee, according to the league’s senior director of trading cards and memorabilia.

Lisa Goldberg told Tuff Stuff the decision had already been made to go to a single card licensee for next season. The league’s trading card contracts with Topps and Upper Deck expire after this year, and both companies agreed a one-company format worked best in the current marketplace.

As negotiations began with those companies, Panini approached the NBA and expressed an interest in working with the league, Goldberg said. While Topps and Upper Deck have been great partners for the NBA, she said Panini brought some innovative ideas to the bargaining table.

“We’re a very global league, so we were looking at who could help us reach the largest global audience,” Goldberg said. “Panini is a well-known brand overseas. They have had great success marketing those products to kids. They’ve also had a lot of success in developing previously untapped markets. We think that experience can help us overseas and in the U.S. market. In the end, we thought they were the best choice to help us get this category where we want it to be.”

Panini will produce cards and stickers for collectors overseas. The cards distributed in those markets will most likely be the same versions of the cards produced domestically, although there may be some instances where a product is offered in a language specific to that country.

Goldberg said the league realizes the decision to part ways with the most experienced and recognized names in the domestic trading card market will be viewed by some as a huge gamble. At the same time, after several years of disappointing sales, the league believes this might be the perfect time to try something new.

“There’s always that concern,” Goldberg said of going with a relatively unknown company for its trading card business. “But it’s no secret that the business has continued to go in the wrong direction and the talk has been, what can we do different? So bringing in a new company is one way to bring some new ideas into the market.”

One advantage to working with Panini, she said, is that it will be the company’s primary focus 12 months out of the year.

“We’re going to work hand-in-hand with them for marketing programs,” Goldberg said. “It’s an unprecedented commitment on their part. They want to get the hobby involved in their programs. They want to find ways to get new collectors interested in the category. We plan on focusing with them over the next few months on what types of programs and marketing support is necessary.

Panini will be setting up an office, most likely in the New York City area, to handle its domestic sales business. It will be soliciting distributors to sell its product to the hobby. Goldberg said wholesalers can contact the league for information on establishing accounts with Panini.

Panini’s four-year deal with the league officially begins Oct. 1, but Goldberg said work has already begun on sketching out plans for next year’s releases. No determination has been made as to how many brands the company will produce. “It will probably be in the neighborhood of 15-20 brands, but we’ll see what the hobby wants,” Goldberg said.

Perhaps the biggest question mark regarding product content surrounds what type of access the company will have to autographs and memorabilia belonging to LeBron James and Kobe Bryant, both of whom are exclusive spokesmen for Upper Deck. Panini can do standard cards of the players, but it will need access to those players’ signatures for success in the high-end market. Getting that access will require a sublicensing deal between Panini and Upper Deck.

Much like several NBA teams have enjoyed success by adding foreign players to their roster, the league believes Panini can help rejuvenate the NBA in the trading card game. “We’re very excited about the partnership and looking forward to great success with this,” Goldberg said.

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