Panini gets NHL trading card license

On Wednesday, it was announced that Italian card manufacturer Panini was granted a license to make NHL trading cards starting next season. Beckett had two different stories on the matter:

Panini adds NHL license

NHL Executive Dave McCarthy: ‘This Was a Difficult Decision’

For the better part of the past two decades, Panini has manufactured hockey sticker albums in the U.S., Canada and Europe. They also purchased the Donruss company, strengthening their position as a major player in the trading card market. Currently, they have exclusive rights to make trading cards for the National Basketball Association.

This is great news for hockey card collectors. For the past 5 years, we have lamented the fact that Upper Deck had a monopoly on both the NHL and NHLPA licenses. Whereas Upper Deck had to try to be competitive with the other major sports, they had pretty much cart blanche when it came to hockey. For example, a pack uf Upper Deck baseball cards costs $3 and have 18 cards so as to compete with Topps. On the other hand, Upper Deck hockey cards also cost $3, but only have 8 cards. And let’s not forget redemptions, sticker autographs, mismatched jersey swatches, and all the other things that fans have perennially complained about. Upper Deck had no real competition when it came to hockey, so why would they even try?

Panini getting a hockey license gives Upper Deck a reason to try. This fall, Score hockey cards will return for the first time in over a decade (Score is one of the brand names owned by Panini/Donruss). I never thought I’d look forward to buying Score hockey cards again.

Likewise, going up against an established hockey card manufacturer like Upper Deck gives Panini reason to do their best too? Who will have better looking cards?

Who will offer more cards per pack at a better price? Which brand will offer the best inserts? Autographs? Other incentives to collect?

Competition is a good thing, my friends.

However, there is some bad news in this. Thus far it has been implied that no other companies will be granted official hockey card licenses.

That is a shame, as In The Game is deserving of such a license. In the past 5 years, ITG has made hockey cards despite not having a license from the NHL or NHLPA, instead focusing on retro-themed sets, upcoming prospects or international competition. (Really, what else can you do if you can’t show current players or NHL logos?)  ITG seems to be the only company that really knows–that really cares–about hockey. Unfortunately, they don’t have the “up front” money to be taken seriously by the League.

In a perfect world, Panini, Upper Deck, In The Game and Topps (remember them?) would all be granted licenses to make official NHL trading cards, and collecting would return to the hockey card utopia that was the 1990s.

Author: Sal Barry

Sal Barry is the editor and webmaster of Puck Junk. He is a freelance hockey writer, college professor and terrible hockey player. Follow him on Twitter @puckjunk

6 thoughts on “Panini gets NHL trading card license”

  1. My hope is that Panini hockey is better than the dreadful Panini basketball.

    Please no sticker autos or flimsy card stock.

  2. Where is your proof that ITG "doesn't have the front money"? Brian Price has made comments on the Hobby Insider message boards that say that he made a presentation to the NHL but the NHLPA would not give him the time of day. This is how ugly rumors get started…

  3. @ Anonymous – Don't get me wrong, but ITG is not in the same league as Upper Deck, Topps or Panini/Donruss. Those 3 companies can afford up-front guarantees in the $5-$10 million dollar range because they make so many different products and have such widespread distribution–money coming in, if you will.

    Having worked for a toy company for 6 years, I understand how licensing and guarantees work. Some licensors won't give you the time of day if you are not willing or able to pay a minimum guarantee.

    That said, I really hope that ITG does get a full NHL/NHLPA license.

  4. Sal,

    Put it this way, Dr. Price would be able to afford the same sort of guarantee as Topps or Panini… he could afford it before and with the success of recent products, he could afford it in the future. When he was licensed, his products were widely distributed at the hobby level.

    He just didn't get a fair chance to present his plan to the NHLPA… the reasons for which are incredibly unclear but there was likely politics involved. Hopefully that can change in the future as they realize what his company is able to accomplish with all of the limitations placed on them. They've worked hard and while they aren't immune to criticism, they are trying to make some great cards!

    Thanks for the debate on this…

  5. Hi again "Anonymous" –

    Just to clarify, I am a fan of ITG. I think their current products are great, but they're just not for me. I loved their products from the first half of the decade–Waving the Flag is still one of my favorites.

    I feel the NHLPA is going for a money grab here. Of course ITG products were sold at hobby stores, but I don't remember seeing them in the big box stores. Though I could be wrong about that.

    The way licensing works, you pay an up front guarantee and then a royalty. If Panini can get their products into the big bog stores–and they can–then that's extra royalty money for the PA. ITG may not be able to get their products in as many places as Panini.

    Or at least that might be what the PA thinks.

    Sadly, when I worked for a toy company several years ago, we wouldn't even bother making a toy unless Wal-Mart said they'd carry it. It didn't even matter if the toy/specialty stores wanted it, or how cool the product was.

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