Playing for Keeps in the Sports Card Sector

Interest in trading cards featuring women’s sports leagues, teams, and athletes is on rise, and so are licensing deals in this space. This month, Upper Deck announced an agreement with University of Iowa basketball player Caitlin Clark, while Panini said it would be creating cards for the new Professional Women’s Hockey League (PWHL), to name two of the most recent examples.

A number of factors play into this trend. First, there has been a resurgence in the trading card sector in general since the start of the pandemic. Interest is likely to continue, with most researchers predicting a compound annual industry growth rate of 7% to 9% over the next six to eight years globally. Second, record sales of cards depicting female athletes on the secondary market are attracting attention; a 2022 signed Caitlin Clark card from Bowman sold for $78,000 in January 2024, a record for a women’s basketball card. And in 2022, a 2003 signed Serena Williams card from NetPro sold for $266,400, the all-time record for women’s sports.

Third, interest in women’s sports and stars in general is at an all-time high, reflected in ratings, attendance at games, and merchandise sales, which is attracting powerful licensees. Just this week, the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) and Amazon announced a sponsorship deal that includes a component making Amazon an NWSL licensee for on-demand apparel and other products. Fourth, the launch of new women’s pro sports leagues—including the PWHL, currently in its first season, and the USL Super League, a new women’s soccer league set to start play in August of this year—are generally accompanied by new licensing deals, including in trading cards. And finally, the new name, image, and likeness rules at the collegiate level have made it possible for the top athletes across sports to enter into commercial deals, with trading cards a key category.

Some of the activity involving female athletes in the trading card market in 2023 and 2024 has included:

  • Upper Deck’s exclusive deal with the PWHL, a six-team league that is bringing in strong attendance in its first year. The agreement, which includes both physical and digital products, will yield several card drops going forward. The debut set includes past Olympians and World Championship gold medalists in hockey who are currently starring on PWHL teams.
  • Panini’s deal with Clark, who has broken every major NCAA scoring record and is headed to the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) next year. The exclusive deal, which is billed as Panini’s first multi-year exclusive deal with a woman athlete, includes memorabilia as well as trading cards. In late 2023, Panini signed its first-ever agreement with a female athlete, namely University of Nebraska volleyball star Lexi Rodriguez, whose team attracted 91,000 fans—a record for volleyball, by far—to a match in a football stadium in August of last year.
  • Leaf’s growing roster of trading cards tied to top female collegiate athletes. Some of the names that have signed NIL deals with the company in recent months include Leilani Armenta, the first woman to play in and score in an HBCU (historically Black college and university) American football game, where she was the kicker; Bella Rasmussen of Laguna Beach (California) High School, the first female to score two touchdowns in a varsity football game; Livvy Dunne, Louisiana State University gymnastics star, who launched an exclusive memorabilia collection as an expansion of her trading card deal signed in 2022; Nebraska pole vaulter Jess Gardner, the first track-and-field student-athlete featured on a trading card; and several college basketball players including Paige Bueckers (UConn), Angel Reese (LSU), and the Cavinder Twins, Haley and Hanna (Miami). These deals range from individual commemorative cards to multifaceted, long-term deals.
  • Topp’s release of a card set with Athletes Unlimited that crosses all four of the organization’s sports leagues, marketed in partnership with Fanatics and featuring 185 athletes. Athletes Unlimited is a player-driven and player-focused professional women’s sports organization, which debuted in 2020, that covers basketball, softball, lacrosse, and volleyball. Since its launch it has introduced trading cards on a sport-by-sport basis but this is the first release to feature athletes from all of its different sports.

There have been trading cards for women’s sports before 2023, of course, although far fewer than in the past 15 months. In 2020, the NWSL partnered with Parkside Collectibles for the first set of trading cards dedicated solely to women’s soccer, which are still going strong. Parkside was founded specifically to fill the white space in the market for women’s soccer cards.

And the WNBA has had trading cards on the market since its inception in 1997. Partners have included Pinnacle, which launched the first cards in the league’s inaugural year; Rittenhouse Archives, a producer of science fiction and fantasy trading cards that signed the WNBA as its first sports license in 2005; and Panini America, which took over the license in 2019 and continues today.

Watch for Raugust Communications’ monthly e-newsletter next Tuesday, March 19, 2024. The Licensing Topic of the Month will take a look at the sustainability initiatives of the leading fast fashion retailers, while the Datapoint research spotlight will examine the current licensing and collaboration landscape in the alcoholic beverage sector. If you have not yet subscribed to this free publication, you can do so here.

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Comments are closed.