LeBron James signs with Fanatics Collectibles in a trading card deal, leaving Upper Deck after 20 years.
LeBron James is moving his trading card sponsorship to Fanatics Collectibles after more than 20 years with rival Upper Deck.
Fanatics will kick off the deal by selling a unique Bowman brand card featuring a dual autograph of the National Basketball Association legend and his son Bronny. It will be available for retail beginning Jan. 19.
The multiyear deal will mean new inventory of signed James trading cards. James hasn’t autographed official cards over the past couple of years. It also shakes up the balance of power in the recently revived sports memorabilia and trading card industry.
“Our goal is to push the envelope of where the hobby can go and are excited about how our collaboration with one of the best athletes in the world will continue to ignite fan and collector passion,” said Fanatics Collectibles CEO Mike Mahan.
Terms of the deal were not disclosed. Experts say the deal could be worth more than $5 million per year.
As part of the launch, James voiced a short video titled “Origin of Greatness,” focusing on the first moments of several Fanatics athlete partners and their journey to the top of their sport.
“As someone who appreciates all the moments — big and small — along the journey, I’m excited to share more with my fans through this partnership with Fanatics,” James, 39, said in a statement.
Fanatics Collectibles, under Michael Rubin’s $31 billion sports platform company Fanatics, purchased Topps in 2022 for $500 million.
Fanatics will replace Panini as the official trading card maker for the NBA and its players association starting in 2026. Fanatics will now have the exclusive on printing cards of James, a four-time NBA champion. Despite exclusivity agreements, league partners have been able to print cards in the past.
The trading card rivals are currently engaged in a courtroom battle, with Panini accusing Fanatics of antitrust violations.
Fanatics Collectibles has also secured long-term, exclusive rights to design, manufacture and distribute trading cards for other sports properties, including Major League Baseball, the Major League Baseball Players Association and the National Football League Players Association.
The deal with the Los Angeles Lakers star is a big win for Fanatics, as James is the most valuable athlete of all current NBA players, according to Ken Goldin, founder and CEO of Goldin Auctions and star of Netflix’s “King of Collectibles” series.
Goldin said he sold a high-grade James card for as high as $5 million at the beginning of James’ career.
Today, he said prices have come down but that his cards are still extremely valuable. He also said he’s optimistic for what this deal will mean for collectors.
“They’re [Fanatics] probably going to utilize LeBron in a way not just to sign autographs, but to help promote trading cards as a whole,” Goldin said.
When James signed his first contract with Upper Deck in 2003, it was believed to be the largest in trading card and memorabilia history. James was reportedly paid $1 million per year and also received a $1 million signing bonus.
“Upper Deck has had the privilege of working closely with LeBron James over the last 20 years, building the LeBron James brand into one of the most valuable collectible brands in the world,” the company said in a statement.
This is not the first time James has left one of his major sponsors for a competitor. The 19-time NBA All-Star left Coca-Cola after almost 18 years to sign an endorsement deal with rival Pepsi in 2021.
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