Category: In the News
As collectible prices boomed in recent years, multiple tennis stars’ trading cards sold for over $10,000 each. Yet, the biggest manufacturers have not made a robust product for the sport. That could change as soon as this year.
Fanatics Collectibles and Winners Alliance—the for-profit affiliate of the Professional Tennis Players Association (PTPA)—announced a new partnership Thursday to create an annual series of cards for the next two decades. Men’s and women’s players will be represented in the sets, which will be made through the Fanatics-owned Topps brand.
“With Fanatics Collectibles’ focus on reaching new audiences and enhancing the collector experience, we’re thrilled to be bringing the trading card hobby to tennis fans around the world for the first time,” Kelvin Smith, Fanatics Collectibles VP of global licensing and partner development, said in a statement.
While the PTPA has not announced how many players have already signed up for its group licensing program, the organization’s goal is to represent the top 250 men’s and women’s competitors. Its not clear how many players would be represented in each year’s set of cards, though it would likely include a mix of new entrants as well as established champions. Individuals could also sign their own autograph or memorabilia deals with Fanatics. Star players from Novak Djokovic to Serena Williams have popped up in previous trading card sets made by smaller companies such as NetPro and Ace Authentic.
In 2020, Djokovic announced the formation of the PTPA, a players association separate from the ATP or WTA. Last year, the organization raised $26 million to launch Winners Alliance, an entity to help players monetize their fame. The group hired OneTeam Partners CEO Ahmad Nassar to be the PTPA executive director and Winners Alliance CEO.
“We’ve been spending a lot of time the last few months talking about the theoretical,” Nassar said in an interview. “‘Hey, players in tennis should have a Players Association. Players in tennis should have an independent voice. Players in tennis should have more commercial deals.’ And this is really the first time we’ve been able to say, ‘And here it is.’”
Fanatics Collectibles has emerged as a power player in the cards business since acquiring baseball, football and basketball-related licensing rights in 2021, followed by the Topps acquisition for roughly $500 million early in 2022. With tennis, they’ll look to chart largely unexplored ground.
Billionaire is helping athletes profit from their own brand
Licensing for video games, trading cards among group’s plans
Billionaire Bill Ackman’s Pershing Square Foundation and investment firm Prysm Capital led a $26 million investment in a new organization designed to help professional tennis players pursue business opportunities off the court.
Winners Alliance, a for-profit affiliate of the Professional Tennis Players Association, appointed Ackman as chairman of the board. Among its first initiatives, the organization plans to set up a licensing program for players to get paid for their likeness being used in video games, trading cards and related areas.
The board also includes Christina Francis, president of Magic Johnson Enterprises, Prysm Capital co-founders Jay Park and Muhammad Mian, and Ahmad Nassar, who formerly led athlete agency OneTeam Partners and NFL Players Inc. Nassar, who was named executive director of PTPA and CEO of Winners Alliance, also participated in the fundraising.
For tennis players who have reached the pinnacle of the sport such as Naomi Osaka, Emma Raducanu, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, prize money is steadily supplemented by lucrative partnerships with brands like Sweetgreen, Tiffany & Co., Richard Mille and Mercedes-Benz. But for hundreds of other lesser-known contenders, injuries or winless spells can make the professional tour financially challenging.
“With the launch and funding of Winners Alliance, we are now well resourced to make a material difference in players’ lives,” said Vasek Pospisil, who co-founded the PTPA with 21-time Grand Slam champion Novak Djokovic.
“I have had a lifelong passion for tennis, both as a player and a fan, but have long recognized the challenges that most professional tennis players experience due to the sport’s inferior economics for all but the very top of the rankings ladder,” Ackman said in an emailed statement.
The Professional Tennis Players Association has announced Ahmad Nassar as the first Executive Director of the player-focused group started by Novak Djokovic and Vasek Pospisil in the fall of 2020, as well as the launch of a for-profit business to benefit professional tennis players called the Winners Alliance. And the PTPA now has $26 million to fund its efforts for the foreseeable future after a funding raise co-led by Winners Alliance Chairman Bill Ackman’s Pershing Square Foundation, private equity firm Prysm Capital, and Nassar. Nassar and the PTPA held a meeting with players Thursday night in New York ahead of the US Open (which begins next week) to better introduce the organization, Nassar, and the group licensing concept.
Nassar, who will serve as CEO of Winners Alliance, founded OneTeam Collective in 2016 and later led OneTeam Partners, before stepping down in June. OneTeam Partners, backed by the NFLPA, MLBPA and RedBird Capital Partners, successfully represented the commercial interests of men and women athletes in many different sports, including the US Women’s National Team, and players from the NWSL, NBA, WNBA, MLS, and NFL, creating better bargaining position in the market by aggregating athletes’ commercial rights. Winners Alliance will try to emulate OneTeam’s success for tennis players, starting with the establishment of a sustainable group licensing program for video games, trading cards, and related areas.
Ackman, Djokovic, and Pospisil reached out to Nassar before he sold his equity stake in OneTeam seeking advice on how to move the PTPA forward. The week after Nassar divested his OneTeam stake, he flew out to Wimbledon and had a three-hour dinner with Djokovic and Pospisil – it was Pospisil’s birthday, so they got him a cake and sang him happy birthday.
“It’s one of those surreal moments in your career where you’re like, ‘what am I doing here?’” Nassar said, chuckling. “I wouldn’t have guessed we’d be having this conversation a year ago, or even six months ago.”
Nassar got confirmations from the PTPA that it would be representing all pro tennis players, including women, and that it wasn’t attempting to launch its own tour. Both would have been deal-breakers, he said. Additionally, Nassar added that the PTPA does not want to replace the ATP Tour Players Council and that the PTPA isn’t concerned with membership numbers; if a person is a professional tennis player, then the PTPA is looking out for their interests, he said. Nassar hopes to meet with key tennis stakeholders during the next two weeks of the US Open.
“My view is that having a truly independent voice and organization representing the voice of all players will help the sport over the long run, and I don’t mean just for players,” said Nassar, whose hire was aided by TurnkeyZRG. “This is not a ‘players out for themselves and everybody else good luck’ mantra. It helps grow the game; it helps attract the best athletes to play the game.”
Nassar will report to the Winners Alliance board, which is headed by Ackman, who has backed the PTPA from its beginning in September 2020, and Prysm, which worked with Nassar previously in several of his players association projects. Prysm co-founders Jay Park and Muhammad Mian will take seats on the Winners Alliance board. They’ll be joined by Christina Francis, President of Magic Johnson Enterprises and former CMO of the Orange Bowl and NFL Players Association.
The PTPA, and Nassar, will be based in Washington, D.C. High on the organization’s to-do list is forming a players’ executive committee and finalizing bylaws before the end of the year. Besides staffing up the organization in the US and globally, likely 10 people in the first year, Nassar said, the PTPA will be launching a Player Services Platform to provide players with discounts, benefits, insurance options, travel and logistics support, player concierge amenities, tax advisory and legal network, discipline appeals support, access to financial planners, player charity support, and media and public relations counsel. While Djokovic is unable to enter the US due to his unvaccinated status, Nassar will be at the US Open meeting with players and tennis stakeholders.