Panini and OneTeam Bring Group Licensing to College Card Deals

The world’s largest collectibles and trading card company is getting into college sports. Panini America, the exclusive trading card manufacturer of the NFL, NBA, MLBPA, UFC, NASCAR and others, announced a multi-year agreement with group licensing powerhouse OneTeam Partners.

The exclusive deal, which includes the rights for both physical and digital trading cards, comes as Panini looks to tap into the newly accessible collegiate market, now open to the company thanks to NIL.

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The deal gives Panini access to OneTeam’s College Athlete Group Licensing program portfolio of current men’s and women’s college athletes. OneTeam recently announced partnerships with athlete marketing platforms Opendorse and INFLCR, both of which have large operations in college athletics that give them access to hundreds of athletes now able to opt in to OneTeam’s group licensing program.

Panini will be able to produce, distribute, promote and sell college trading cards featuring any of those NCAA athletes.

OneTeam said college athletes will have the opportunity to opt in to a group license agreement specific to Panini in the coming weeks. Panini expects to launch cards across schools and several sports this fall, including football, men’s and women’s basketball, baseball and Olympic sports.

In addition to traditional, physical card sales, Panini will tap its NFT blockchain and Panini Instant, an on-demand, direct-to-consumer platform that highlights sporting events as they happen, for digital card distribution.

Panini also said it has plans to launch on-demand, co-branded college and player products this fall using its existing college licenses. Panini America’s CEO Mark Warsop said OneTeam’s group licensing program will help his company “reach a wide range of athletes across multiple schools and develop products that cut across all sports on both the men’s and women’s side.”

“For the last six years, [Panini] has produced collegiate trading cards with alumni in select sports as well as recent athletes that have declared to go pro,” said Jason Howarth, VP of marketing at Panini America. “NIL expands that opportunity to current college athletes to integrate into existing collegiate products where it’s allowable… and potential NIL-specific products that we will look to explore. The group licensing element gives us the ability to highlight more college athletes and not just the top players.”

Both parties declined to disclose specific financial details of the arrangement, but Panini will pay a royalty rate for the group player rights. The royalty rate will be the same for all athletes included in the program, as is customary in group license agreements. OneTeam described the rate as “competitive with what professional athletes receive.”

OneTeam said it sees tremendous opportunity for athletes in the deal, particularly given its timing. The sports card and memorabilia markets exploded during the pandemic.

“The trading card market is booming,” said Ahmad Nassar, CEO of OneTeam. “With [Panini’s] 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… The group licensing model is key to including athletes in broad-based licensed products like this.”

Group licensing creates a one-stop shop for companies wanting to do multi-player deals involving name, image and likeness. Within pro sports leagues, group licensing is how trading card deals have happened for years. Group licensing was explicitly prohibited in the NCAA, alongside any other form of athlete compensation, until July 1, when the association allowed college athletes to monetize NIL through commercial deals.

OneTeam launched in late 2019 as a joint venture between the NFLPA, MLBPA and RedBird Capital Partners to leverage the brands of stars like Patrick Mahomes and maximize the collective value of pro athletes’ NIL. The firm represents the commercial business interests of the athletes of the NFLPA, MLBPA, MLSPA, U.S. Women’s National Team Players Association, WNBPA and U.S. Rugby PA.