European manufacturer Panini has secured the exclusive rights to produce and distribute NBA trading cards for four years from the 2009/10 season. The Italian company, which will produce up to 20 different NBA-licenced products each season, will open an office in New York.
"Over the years, NBA trading cards have served as an important source to connect fans of all ages with our game," said Sal LaRocca, executive vice president of NBA Global Merchandising Group. "As we look to the future of our trading card business, there is general consensus, including with our current partners, Topps and Upper Deck, that moving forward with an exclusive partner is the best way for us to energise the category globally.
"We are fortunate to have had three outstanding companies interested in our trading card business and believe Panini's position as the leading global company in this industry aligns best with our worldwide growth strategy."
The agreement means an end to the NBA's arrangement with American companies Topps, which has produced NBA training cards since 1957, and Upper Deck, which joined the market in the early nineties.
"Our focus remains on delivering great products to the loyal collectors and consumers who have passionately supported Upper Deck basketball products," said Upper Deck's vice president of sports Bernd Becker. "We are confident the remaining 2008-09 NBA sets will be some of the best our industry has ever seen."
Topps said in a statement that matching Panini's bid, "does not make economic sense."
Panini's sales in collectables, including brands such as High School Musical and sports events including the Uefa European Championship, were some US$1 billion in 2008. The company employs more than 700 people worldwide.