Trading card company Topps is poised to take non-fungible tokens (NFT) to Wall Street as a publicly traded firm via a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) merger with Mudrick Capital.

The 80-year-old company, in which Mudrick led a $250 million investment at a $1.3 billion valuation, has long sold baseball cards and other physical collectibles. On Tuesday its new investor, Jason Mudrick, said he’s betting on the digital front through the buzzy market for NFTs.

Topps plans on chasing that upside aggressively. Closing its deal during a booming market for crypto collectibles, it told investors in a Tuesday presentation the company will reinvest in blockchain and NFTs as a “growth accelerator.”

The card company anticipates pushing more content through the blockchain pipeline, expanding NFT distribution across marketplace partners like Wax and OpenSea and integrating NFTs into more collector experiences through 2021. 

“Digital currently represents 6% of Topps’ revenue,” said Joel Belfer, a financial analyst at Guggenheim who writes about sports card markets for industry newsletter Mint Condition. “It’s not a big part of their business, but I think Mudrick is going to try to accelerate their digital offering.”

Topps reported $567 million in total sales during 2020. For context, Dapper Labs’ NBA Top Shot steamrolled through over $500 million in NFT sales in its first 10 months.

A slide from Topps' investor deck
(Mudrick/SEC)

Baby steps

Topps began carving a niche in the early innings of the NFT craze through a Garbage Pail Kids partnership with the Wax platform. That tie-up continues: Last week it dropped a “Godzilla”-themed NFT card pack on Wax that generated at least $500,000 in revenue within hours.

Mudrick told Institutional Investor he wants Topps to monetize the secondary market for NFTs. Because NFTs have no physical form they can, theoretically, be restricted to private blockchain platforms where their movement is restricted and their secondary sales essentially taxed. 

Dapper Labs follows this model – it takes a 5% cut of each moment sale – though other leading marketplaces exist on the fee-heavy wilds of the Ethereum blockchain, competing for block space with major lending markets.

Market conditions

Back in meatspace, collectors, some perhaps angry at their mothers for ditching the card-stuffed shoebox they claim was worth millions, have poured six-figure sums into throwback cards during the coronavirus pandemic. 

Bringing a blockchain-sanctioned secondary market to digital collectibles could position Topps to take on a major new revenue stream. Dapper Labs recently raised $305 million from splashy investors to seize the moment.

Read more: Michael Jordan Joins $305M Investment in Firm Behind NBA Top Shot

Topps’ top brass told investors the company has been investing in digital for more than a decade, in part through pre-NFT digital collectible platforms like Major League Baseball-licensed Topps BUNT. It is unclear how popular that walled-garden project is among baseball fans. (Blockchain data sites like Evaluate.market lay bare the value of NBA Top Shot moments in real-time.)

Topps’ foray into blockchain and NFTs is barely a year old, however.

“Ending up as a leader in this area will still require quite a bit of vigilance and investment, but we like our head start,” Topps Executive Chairman Andy Redman said during the presentation. He said the blockchain initiatives pairs well with the company’s efforts in e-commerce, “further cementing our position in the sports ecosystem of the future.”

But Belfer, the card analyst, said Topps won’t be able to simply carry its existing physical collectible licenses with major leagues like MLB or the National Football League into the digital world. The company will likely have to broker new digital-specific business deals, as Dapper Labs did with the National Basketball Association.

That could be an expensive proposition, he said.

Topps declined to answer CoinDesk’s questions.

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