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How Broad-Scale Player Collectibles Help Grow the Game | Q&A with Kelvin Smith, Fanatics Collectibles

In March, the PTPA and Winners Alliance announced an exclusive annualized trading cards partnership with Fanatics Collectibles. Through the deal, professional women’s and men’s tennis players have the opportunity to be included in a broad-scale group trading card set program through the company’s cornerstone brand, Topps.

One of the key figures responsible for bringing the groundbreaking deal to life was Kelvin Smith, VP of Global Licensing & Partner Development for Fanatics Collectibles. Kelvin noted in March that the deal with the PTPA and Winners Alliance will allow both Fanatics and featured players to “reach new audiences and enhance the collector experience” and “bring the trading card hobby to tennis fans worldwide for the first time.” With the first group licensing deal in the history of professional tennis signed, Kelvin touches on what’s next for bringing the product line to life, and how Fanatics Collectibles will contribute to the PTPA’s mission of growing players’ brands and the sport as a whole.

Fanatics Collectibles and its cornerstone brand, Topps, will be working with the PTPA to bring a broad-scale, annual set of player trading cards to life. What excites you about this new venture in tennis?

KS: We’re thrilled to be a part of the first group licensing agreement in the history of professional tennis. This is very exciting as we now get to work with some of the most talented athletes in the world to create amazing collectible products for passionate tennis fans. On a personal level, Ahmad Nassar (PTPA Executive Director) and I have been good friends for several years, and I’m delighted to have the opportunity to be a part of this groundbreaking initiative he’s spearheading. 

The deal is signed – now what? Can you give us a high-level overview of what happens next in the process of bringing the first set of cards to life?

KS: From here, our product team will collaborate closely with the PTPA to create the annual sets that include unique imagery, player spotlights and chase elements throughout for collectors. We will then work directly with players to autograph their cards in the set, which we expect to be highly anticipated and sought after by fans.

From there, we work with all partners and retailers to bring the set to market, including e-commerce, hobby shops and national retailers, depending on each product. And finally, in conjunction with the PTPA and athletes featured in the set, the Topps and Fanatics teams develop creative marketing campaigns to build awareness and excitement amongst consumers.

Can you give us an example of how trading cards in other sports have deepened existing fan connections and grown the game with new fan bases?

KS: We partner with a variety of new leagues and sports – including Athletes Unlimited, Overtime Elite, and many more – to create trading card sets that help grow awareness of the sport and athletes, and ultimately give fans and collectors an opportunity to own a piece of history. We’ve seen incredible growth of and passion for these products, and, for example, you can now find our 2023 Topps Athletes Unlimited set at Target and Barnes & Noble.

Annualized trading cards have become a staple in other sports like football and baseball, and have provided featured players with new sources of recurring, incremental income thanks to their inclusion in the card packs and the card packs’ sales. Pretend you’re speaking with tennis players that aren’t familiar with the trading card market or how Fanatics Collectibles works with other sports – what should they know about this annualized trading card program?

KS: Fanatics Collectibles works directly with leagues, players associations and athletes to create these annual trading card sets that celebrate the sport and athletes. Beyond simply working with them to create the cards themselves, we also work closely with the leagues and athletes on our marketing campaigns. For example, this year’s Topps Series 1 Baseball marketing campaign was centered around our cover athlete Julio Rodríguez starring in “The J-Rod Show”, which featured humorous spots that transform Rodríguez into the main character of a variety of classic TV tropes.

These partnerships with leagues, players associations and athletes not only bring business opportunities to players, but also create unique opportunities to engage with their most dedicated fans and grow their personal brands.