In a move hoped to streamline and stimulate the trading-card market, Major League Baseball announced on Thursday an exclusive licensing arrangement with The Topps Company. The multiyear deal, which goes into effect on Jan. 1, gives Topps exclusivity on MLB, Jewel Event and club trademarks, logos and other intellectual property for use on baseball cards, stickers and other product categories featuring MLB players. By making the deal, MLB is expressing optimism in Topps' ability to appeal to a new generation of young collectors under the watch of Michael Eisner, the former president of the Angels, who acquired the cardmaker in 2007.
"Generations of baseball fans have grown more connected to the game through collecting baseball cards," Commissioner Bud Selig said. "We look forward to partnering with Topps to restore baseball cards as the game's premier collectable." The exclusive arrangement ends MLB's 30-year relationship with Upper Deck, the other main player in the market -- which retains licensing rights from the MLB Players Association. That enables Upper Deck to continue producing cards with players' images -- but team logos and such are out. Eisner hailed the deal with MLB, earlier telling The New York Times, "This is redirecting the entire category toward kids. Topps has been making cards for 60 years, the last 30 in a nonexclusive world that has caused confusion to the kid who walks into a ... hobby store. It's also been difficult to promote cards as unique and original. "We're going to be very aggressive in letting retailers, kids and hobbyists know that we are the card that represents it all." "There is a greater chance of organizing the marketplace with a singular partner," said Tim Brosnan, MLB's executive vice president for business. "It's a business that's critically important to our mission, to make players icons to kids." Eisner was CEO of The Walt Disney Company when the entertainment conglomerate purchased the Angels from Gene Autry's estate in the mid-1990s, making him the front-office face of the franchise when it won its only World Series, in 2002.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.