Beverly Hills-based Tornante, which was founded by former Walt Disney Co. Chief Executive Michael Eisner, announced the deal Jan. 4 with Jacksonville, Fla.-based digital sportswear platform Fanatics Inc.
Eisner initially attempted to take Topps public in April with the special purpose acquisition company Mudrick Capital Acquisition Corp. II. The then $1.3 billion deal fell apart when Fanatics launched its own trading card division, obtaining the trading card rights to Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association starting in 2026. Topps had owned the rights for 70 years.
Tornante’s sale reunites the MLB rights with Topps’ other trading card holdings, which include Major League Soccer, Formula 1, the Union of European Football Associations, and other sports and entertainment brands, including the Star Wars franchise. The purchase also provides Fanatics with immediate production infrastructure to design, manufacture and distribute trading cards, instead of waiting until 2026 as originally planned.
All of the approximately 350 Topps sports and entertainment employees will become employees of Fanatics Trading Cards in the deal. Current Topps Global Vice President and General Manager David Leiner and Vice President and General Manager of Topps Digital Tobin Lent will report directly to Fanatics Inc. Vice Chairman and Fanatics Commerce Chief Executive Doug Mack although they will continue to run Topps as a separate subsidiary of Fanatics within Fanatics Trading Cards.
Fanatics’ exclusive trading card deal with MLB and its players association not only shocked the sports business community but also Topps, leading to a call between Eisner and MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred in August that The Wall Street Journal described at the time as “brief and heated.” Topps was given the opportunity to match Fanatics’ offer, but Fanatics’ then-recent influx of cash, including $325 million backed by investors like rapper and entrepreneur Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter and Menlo Park-based private equity company Silver Lake Management, put its market capitalization at 14 times that of Topps, effectively pricing its competitor out of the conversation.
Topps’ division that manufactures candy and chewing gum was not included in the deal.
Tornante, which bought Topps in 2007 with Madison Dearborn Partners for $385 million, made a separate announcement the same day that it would rename its confectionary company holdings Bazooka Cos. Inc. That company will continue to sell candy under the brand name Bazooka Candy Brands.
The two companies expect to leverage Fanatics’ direct-to-consumer expertise, including a database of more than 80 million global sports fans, with Topps’ firmly established product development and manufacturing capabilities.
“The strong emotional connection between Topps collectibles and consumers of all ages — built through 70 years of tradition starting with the Shorin family — will make it a jewel in the Fanatics portfolio,” Eisner said in the announcement. “We are thrilled to move forward with our strong confection and gift cards businesses.”
Eisner was the chairman and chief executive of Walt Disney Co. from 1984 to September 2005 before founding Tornante upon his departure. Tornante has since invested in Culver City-based for-profit fundraising company Omaze Inc., San Francisco-based online labor marketplace TaskRabbit Inc. and West Hollywood-based digital consumer products company Clique Brands Inc.