First off, the suit was something Donruss should have seen coming. When the sell sheets for Donruss Threads were first issued, and showed most of the logos weren't completely airbrushed out, in my mind a lawsuit was inevitable. It wasn't a matter of if D'russ would get sued, but when. But even if Donruss eventually wins or settles this suit, they've all but lost any chance they had (however remote) of ever getting their MLB license back, and they only have themselves to blame.
As for Panini, most collectors probably remember them from their late-80s sticker books, or from their European soccer cards. So what can NBA collectors expect? Their primary business is still in stickers and collectible card games (both sports-related and non-sports). It should be a given that they'll try to import both into basketball. What they've never done before is an "American" style sports card set. Panini has never made an autographed card; nor have they made a game used card; and most of their existing products sell for less than $1/pack.
Can Panini adapt to the tastes of the American collector with more upscale products? Or will they stick (no pun intended) with what works in Europe? We won't know until the first sell-sheets come out, but judging from this quote from Sal LaRocca, Executive Vice President of the NBA's Global Merchandising Group, we can expect basketball cards to go down-market.
“Our exclusive partnership with Panini provides us with the best opportunity to recreate the trading card market by developing the key retail channels with a variety of products and promotions geared towards all consumer segments.”
"Recreate the trading card market." That's a interesting choice of words, eh? And Mr. LaRocca may have a point. Over the past decade-and-a-half, as the price of a pack of cards has skyrocketed past the $5, $10, $20, $100, and $500 price-points, total revenues have plummeted, and that is no coincidence. It's a trend that started in the mid-90s across all sports, and despite the best efforts of the existing manufacturers (or perhaps, because of them), shows no sign of letting up. So maybe the NBA giving an exclusive license to a company with a track-record of affordable and collectible products, might not be so bad for basketball collectors.
"A variety of products ... geared towards all consumer segments." Again, an interesting choice of words. The NBA has given Panini the right to produce anywhere from 15-20 card sets per year, so variety should not be an issue. With that many products, there ought to be something for every collector. However given Panini's efforts in European Soccer cards, I have a feeling that the era of the $100/pack product may be coming to an end -- at least in basketball.
Here's one thing that should give basketball collectors pause. Although an established company in Europe, Panini hasn't had a US presence since the early-90s. They are, for all intents and purposes, a start-up company. The first basketball sets are traditionally released in the late Summer/early Fall, which is six to eight months from now. Will Panini be able to get a product out the door by then? And will it be any good? Or will they half-ass it like 2001 Donruss baseball?
And what about Topps and UD? Will they go the unlicensed route and produce sets of retired players and draft picks? Considering that they still have Michael Jordan, LeBron James, and others locked up to long-term exclusive contracts, Upper Deck might issue single-player sets. However today's lawsuit against Donruss may put the kibosh on that idea.
Finally, it will be interesting to see if Panini will be content with just an NBA license, or if they'll try to acquire another sport's license. Both Topps and Upper Deck's MLB licenses expire at the end of this year, and if Panini makes the kind of offer to baseball as they did with basketball, 2009 may very well be the last year for Topps and/or Upper Deck baseball.