College sports trading cards latest byproduct of NIL policy

By ARNIE STAPLETON
AP Sports Writer

You’ll soon be able to collect trading cards of your favorite college athletes, the latest offshoot of the NCAA’s milestone decision to allow student-athletes to monetize their fame without compromising their eligibility.

Panini America is launching product lines for football, men’s and women’s basketball, baseball and Olympic sports for college athletes who opt-in to OneTeam Partner’s College Athlete Group Licensing program.

“It’s 100% a game-changer,” Jason Howarth, vice president of marketing for Panini America, said of the partnership. “You’ve got the biggest sports collectibles brand in the world partnering with the biggest organization that understands group marketing better than anybody else coming into a marketplace that literally was born 23 days ago.”

On June 30, the NCAA Board of Directors effectively suspended its restrictions on payments to its 460,000 athletes for such things as sponsorship deals, online endorsements and personal appearances.

The deals came rolling in immediately after the NCAA allowed athletes to earn money for the use of their name, image and likeness beginning this month.

Now athletes will be able to have their own trading card — and not just the campus hotshots.

“I think really to do NIL properly, especially from a trading card perspective, it can’t just be about the biggest athletes. It has to be collective to build out a full product,” Howarth said. “So, that’s where group licensing is super important to us across all of our sports, including the collegiate space that’s 23 days old.”

Howarth said the new college cards won’t devalue the rookie cards of athletes who eventually turn pro.

“Do they replace the value and the excitement of a rookie card of a player like Trevor Lawrence in a Jacksonville Jaguars uniform? No,” Howarth said. “But I think that if you’re a college sports fan — and there are people that are just purely college sports fans — now you have the ability to collect those athletes as they’re playing for your team.”

Panini plans to launch on-demand co-branded college and player products, some of which will be autographed, beginning with the 2021 football season that kicks off Aug. 28.

Panini will produce both physical and digital trading cards, including on its nonfungible token/blockchain platform and starting with its real-time, print-on-demand instant platform.

Panini has marketing rights with more than 200 colleges and universities, which has allowed the company to produce cards of either famous alumni or pro prospects in their respective college uniforms once they’d declared for the draft.

Now, young athletes who are closer to their high school prom than the pros can get their own trading card.

OneTeam Partners is a joint venture formed in 2019 that represents a range of commercial business interests on behalf of several players associations, including those in the NFL, MLB, MLS and the WNBA.

“Athletes that are just getting into this space and may not understand what the true value of their name, image and likeness truly is, you have group licensing in play. So, the OneTeam Partners will evaluate and review and approve those cards,” Howarth said.

“So, the player has that level of assurance that they’re going to be presented in the best light on a trading card. And if we have the ability to brand with those colleges, that just takes it to the level where it should be where the player’s actually in their collegiate uniform.”

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More AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/College-football and http://www.twitter.com/AP—Top25

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