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Michael Eisner sells Topps sports trading card company after losing key licenses

Michael Eisner smiling.
Former Walt Disney Co. CEO Michael Eisner in 2020.
(Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

Former Walt Disney Co. Chief Executive Michael Eisner has sold the Topps trading card business to merchandising giant Fanatics after losing its key Major League Baseball license.

Eisner has owned Topps, the company synonymous with sports trading cards, since 2007 through his Beverly Hill-based investment firm Tornante Co.

Fanatics has completed a deal to acquire Topps’ cards and collectibles business, the two companies said in a Tuesday press release. Financial terms were not disclosed, but the purchase price is about $500 million, according to people familiar with the deal who weren’t authorized to speak publicly.

The deal comes after Fanatics in August swooped in to acquire key sports licenses previously held by Topps, which is based in New York.

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Fanatics struck a deal with Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Assn. for the exclusive licenses to make baseball cards. Topps’ MLB deal expires in 2025; its agreement with the players association ends this year.

For nearly two years, Bob Iger and Bob Chapek have run the company together. After an Iger farewell tour, one Bob remains.

Fanatics’ aggressive move was a huge blow for Topps, which has been among the most widely recognized names in trading card licensing for more than 70 years. The deal effectively scuttled Eisner’s plan to take Topps public through a merger with a special purpose acquisition company, or SPAC, in a transaction valued at $1.3 billion.

The Topps acquisition accelerates Fanatics’ push into the trading card space. Fanatics launched its own card business last year after acquiring licenses with organizations that, in addition to the MLB and MLBPA, included the National Basketball Assn., the National Basketball Players Assn. and National Football League Players Assn.

Fanatics’ incursion into the space comes after a boom in interest surrounding sports cards and other collectibles during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“With trading cards and collectibles being a significant pillar of our long-term plans to become the leading digital sports platform, we are excited to add a leading trading cards company to build out our business,” said Fanatics CEO Michael Rubin.

The Topps sale does not include its candy and greeting cards divisions, such as the classic Bazooka bubble gum brand. Those businesses will remain owned by Eisner’s Tornante and Madison Dearborn Partners, and have been rebranded as the Bazooka Cos.

With hundreds of streaming services out there, consumers face a daunting and expensive market when it comes to finding what to watch and where to watch it. L.A.-based app Struum says it has a solution.

Eisner, who was CEO of Disney from 1984 until his exit in 2005, acquired Topps with Madison Dearborn in 2007 for $385 million through Tornante. Topps was founded in 1938.

“Like any crown jewel, I and my partners at Madison Dearborn will miss our many years of ownership where we grew a highly profitable business through strategic licensing partnerships, global expansion, and digital transformation,” Eisner said in a statement.

Following Eisner’s exit from Disney, Bob Iger began a 15-year run as CEO that ended in February 2020 when Bob Chapek was named to the helm. Iger remained executive chairman of Disney, overseeing its creative direction, until officially leaving the company at the end of 2021.

Tornante’s businesses also include the television production company behind the satirical Netflix cartoon “BoJack Horseman,” as well as the streaming service Struum, which aggregates film and TV content from smaller providers.


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