Panini America, the regional arm of the sports trading card manufacturer, has filed an anti-trust lawsuit against rival Fanatics, the digital sports platform and e-commerce platform, alleging it is attempting to monopolize the trading card market after entering the sector two years ago.
Panini America has exclusive licenses with basketball’s NBA in a deal running through September 2025 and American football’s NFL through early 2026 to produce trading cards for both leagues.
However, Panini alleges Fanatics has engaged in “calculated, intentional, anticompetitive conduct” by securing long-term, exclusive licensing deals with leagues and players since entering the market in 2021 including with the NFL, NBA, baseball’s MLB, and each of their respective player associations.
Fanatics has a 20-year deal in place with the NFL Players Association starting in 2026 and will also become the exclusive licensee of NBA cards in a deal with the NBA and its players’ union, the NBAPA, in the same year.
The company also secured deals with MLB players and its players' association in August 2021 to become the exclusive licensee of its cards at the end of 2022.
The lawsuit said: “Panini was not given an opportunity to bid or otherwise compete for the licenses Fanatics acquired. Panini only learned about Fanatics’ exclusive agreements after they were consummated, through reading about them in the media.
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“By combining long-term exclusive licenses for every major US professional sports league and their respective player associations, Fanatics positioned itself to drive Panini and other potential competitors out of the market, and erected barriers to entry blocking their return.”
It also claims Fanatics poached its employees to cut out competitors by “threatening them with not working in the industry ever again once Panini’s licenses expired unless those employees committed immediately to join Fanatics.”
Panini also claims Fanatics circulated “false derogatory statements about them, telling players, agents, players associations, and employees Panini would be “incapable of performing for them, will be out of business soon, and lacks the money to pay them.”
Going further, Panini said Fanatics chief executive Michael Rubin “approached Panini in May 2023 to threaten that Fanatics would no longer supply Panini with any jerseys for Panini to offer to consumers as elements of its trading cards” and “would not stop its pressure campaign against Panini and continue to sign exclusive deals with players.”
The lawsuit added: “Because of Fanatics’ anticompetitive conduct, the major US professional sports leagues trading cards market will be entirely controlled by a single firm for decades.”
The company seeks unspecified damages for reputational harm, lost revenues, and other alleged injuries.
Responding in a statement, Fanatics said it is preparing to countersue, adding: “Panini’s lawsuit is a baseless last gasp, flailing effort by a company that has lost touch with its customers, is failing in the marketplace, and has tried successfully for years to sell itself.
“Panini is trying to blame Fanatics for its own inability to keep pace with what players, fans, and even its own employees want.”