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Fanatics & Professional Tennis Players Association Ink 20 Year Deal: Tennis Cards are Back!

Fanatics & Professional Tennis Players Association Ink 20 Year Deal: Tennis Cards are Back!
March 30, 2023
Dylan Dittrich

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Why did hedge fund titan Bill Ackman tweet that "trading cards can be good investments" last week?

Given his reputation for a vocal and active approach to short selling, Ackman's proclamation that cardboard has investment merit came as somewhat of a surprise. Herbalife execs must have spit out their protein shakes in disgust when they read it: "Oh, COME ON! Trading cards can be a good investment, but our multi-level marketing company can't?!"

The comment, though, was not an independent musing set between long explorations of the health of our banking systems. It was instead a reaction to news that Fanatics and the Professional Tennis Players Association had reached agreement on a twenty year exclusive trading card partnership, ultimately to be executed through Topps.

Ackman's Pershing Square Foundation led a $26 million investment in the PTPA this summer. The aim of the organization, spearheaded by Novak Djokovic, and its for-profit affiliate, Winners Alliance, is to advocate collectively on behalf of the global community of professional tennis players. One method of advocacy is the creation of revenue generating opportunities for players off the court, primarily realized through the power of licensing as a collective. While Ackman is the Chairman of Winners Alliance, his contributions to the sport are said to be purely philanthropic as a lifelong fan, with no intent to profit.

Proponents of the PTPA are eager to note that while the sport of tennis boasts immense global popularity, its revenues - especially those that find their way to players' pockets - are disproportionately small. This agreement with Fanatics is just the type of opportunity envisioned for the organization.

Licensed opportunities to collect cards of today's stars have been exceedingly limited in recent years. All these years later, the 2003 NetPro sets remain the most familiar, popular, and lucrative collecting ground for tennis fans, boasting rookie offerings from Serena, Federer, and Nadal. To be fair, what else have you really needed since then?!

In the meantime, Ace Authentic plugged the gap in the late 2000s and early 2010s, providing a collecting outlet for the less universally loved of the GOATs in Djokovic. Since, there have been smatterings of releases, but few wide-ranging efforts. It is perhaps no coincidence at all that the scant variety of tennis offerings coincides with a dry period for the cultivation of new, generational talents. From 2004 onward, Federer, Nadal, and Djokovic account for 59 of 72 available Grand Slam titles.

But that's shown signs of changing in very recent months. While Djokovic and Nadal still loom quite large on the men's side, it has never been more apparent that a changing of the guard has begun, with a significant hoard of young talents beginning to realize their potential and assert themselves on the biggest stages.

At the moment, there is no bigger name than Carlos Alcaraz. Longtime readers of Alts & Ends will recall that we chronicled NetPro's release of the first licensed Alcaraz trading cards last year. The release proved to be a smash success, with the best cards quickly ascending into five-figure territory, demonstrating the star power of the young Spaniard, as well as the appetite for collecting a tennis star of a new generation.

For its part, NetPro's reaction - voiced via Twitter - to the Fanatics news has largely been upbeat. The company believes the deal will draw further exposure to their existing 2003 and 2022 collections, and they have voiced their intent to continue pursuing player specific deals. The allure of future NetPro releases perhaps dims should a great number of players opt into the Winners Alliance group licensing opportunity, entrenching future Topps releases as the new standard in the sport.

But that opt-in remains a massive if.Players who are known to be involved with the PTPA include Djokovic, Vasek Pospisil, Ons Jabeur, Paula Badosa, and John Isner amongst others. The terms of Alcaraz's agreement with NetPro are not known in terms of duration and exclusivity, but you're left to wonder if key young stars like him, Coco Gauff, and Emma Raducanu might be better served by individual agreements than licensing via the collective. Americans like Taylor Fritz, Frances Tiafoe, Tommy Paul, and Ben Shelton, who have yet to see official rookie cards printed, would be in demand for manufacturers as well.

Still, if Topps is able to land the right players, the collecting implications for a starved global fanbase could be significant. Topps Chrome and Topps Dynasty Formula 1 releases in 2021 and 2022 are incredible case studies for the power of the right product at the right moment. Case in point: it was a Verstappen card sale Bill Ackman referenced in his tweet. While the first installment of Break Point on Netflix fell well short of the standard set by Drive to Survive, there will be continued efforts to better connect the sport's stars with its significant audience.

We'll know the strategy has worked wonders once Ackman appears on CNBC to offer a spirited short argument against Stefanos Tsitsipas cards. Somebody has to get to the bottom of his extended mid-match bathroom breaks.

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