Update: As of 2017 – Panini’s interest appears to be overstated.
Panini America has interest in acquiring the Upper Deck Company according to people involved with both companies. Negotiations between the two sides have been on and off since 2013. It’s believed talks have heated back up recently.
Panini America entered the U.S. market shortly after its parent company, Panini S.p.A, was issued a term loan for $84,944,600 on April 7, 2008. 11 months later Panini announced it purchased Donruss Playoff on March 13, 2009. Industry experts speculate the purchase price was between $12-$16 Million. Since 2009, Panini has acquired licenses to publish collectibles for NBA, NFL, NHL, MLBPA, CLC, and properties from many other licensors in the United States.
Rapid growth in the United States has led some Panini America employees to complain about a demanding work environment. Several have expressed belief the process to create trading cards has been compromised because of tight timetables. It’s unclear if an acquisition of Upper Deck would smooth out workflow.
American sports cards remain a small part of Panini’s overall business. Panini Group did $1 Billion in sales worldwide in 2010, led largely by the popularity of FIFA World Cup collectible stickers. Group licensing director Peter Warsop said in a 2013 Sports Business Daily article that “Seventy percent of our collectibles business is in [soccer] sticker packets and albums.”
The Upper Deck Company revolutionized the trading card industry in 1989, but has fallen on hard times in recent years.
Founder Richard McWilliam in 1993 estimated Upper Deck was worth $250 Million. Owners of the company by then had already received over $150 Million in dividend payments, a staggering figure. The quick rise of Upper Deck led McWilliam to amass a fortune, including spending $21 million on a 9,455-square-foot apartment in the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in New York. McWililam was able to personally bankroll the company during its leaner years.
By 2010, the prospects at Upper Deck had changed. The company laid off 119 employees after losing its MLB Properties, NBA and NFL trading card license. Costly legal battles ensued with both MLB and the NFL. Current Upper Deck President Jason Masherah said in court documents: “If we cannot use the uniforms, we cannot compete and most assuredly there will be only one baseball trading card company — Topps — when the dust settles. A series consisting solely of players not in uniforms would be, at best, a sporadic novelty low-revenue item.”
Richard McWilliam died on January 5, 2013. McWiliam’s wife, Vivianne B. McWilliam, has been named the administrator of his estate.