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LeBron ‘Bronny’ James Jr. is getting his first legit, autographed trading card. It’s a huge deal for two reasons.
First and foremost, it will be the first card of its kind. Secondly, there are a lot of logistics around licensing deals and exclusive contracts in James’ future that will need to be figured out.
James, a four-star combo guard, is considered the No. 30 prospect in the Class of 2023. As such, and because of his polarizing last name, he was invited to compete in the prestigious McDonald’s All-American Game on March 28 at the Toyota Center in Houston.
only the top 48 hoopers pic.twitter.com/Yv1SLvh2oW— McDonald’s All American Games (@McDAAG) January 26, 2023
With the McDonald’s All-American Game comes the McDonald’s All-American basketball cards, which returned after a 14-year hiatus in 2022. Every player participating in the game gets his or her own card.
There are four cards per pack, 20 packs per box and 12 boxes per set. The cards are produced by Topps.
Bronny James will have his own card.
In addition, during the final day of its annual Industry Conference in Arizona, Topps announced that James will be featured in the Topps Chrome McDonald’s All-American Game set, with autographed cards. They will be the first autographed Bronny James cards to exist.
That is a big deal in itself. For the first time ever, Bronny’ signature will be on a trading card. They will be worth a lot of money on that exclusivity alone.
The fact that the card will be produced by Topps also makes things very interesting. Ivan Lovegren (@WatchTheBreaks on Twitter) is the Sports Card Category Lead at ISO Sports and Collectibles.
Lovegren helped to break down why Bronny’s McDonald’s All-American card is important in the space.
Bronny’s Topps-issued autographed card creates a unique dynamic.
In 2002, LeBron James Sr. signed what was believed to be the largest trading card and memorabilia card for a rookie in sports history. He inked an exclusive contract with Upper Deck that was worth at least $1 million per year, plus a $1 million signing bonus. That relationship extends to present day.
It was a bit of a gamble by Upper Deck, considering the amount of talent in that year’s NBA Draft class, but it certainly paid off! All LeBron James Sr. autographed cards were produced by Upper Deck.
As such, according to Lovgren, there was a lot of speculation that LeBron Sr. would “usher his son in the same direction.” The thought was that Bronny might sign an exclusive contract with Upper Deck for autographed cards like his dad.
Michael Jordan is the same. He has a deal with Upper Deck.
If Bronny is to sign with Jordan Brand on an apparel deal, perhaps that agreement would require and/or encourage him to be exclusive with Upper Deck like M.J.
The only thing is — Upper Deck no longer owns the licensing rights for the NBA. Topps purchased that contract from Panini and the rights are set to change hands in a few years.
Lovegren says that all of this uncertainty plays into the excitement around this specific McDonald’s All-American Game card announcement. There are a few different scenarios that could play out.
With Topps set to obtain NBA licensing rights in the coming years, it may become more alluring to athletes. Bronny may decide to sign an exclusive with Topps, unlike his dad.
On the flip side, Bronny may decide to sign with Upper Deck. This Topps card may simply be part of the agreement to play in the McDonald’s All-American Game.
If that is the case, and Bronny signs with Upper Deck, he may never release a signed autographed card in the NBA. That would mean that this upcoming autographed McDonald’s All-American Game card could be the only signed Bronny card to exist. Ever.
What are the benefits of an exclusive autographed trading card deal?
The main reason for an athlete to sign an exclusive deal for signature cards is simple. He or she, in this case Bronny James, would have better control over his brand.
Lovegren says that an exclusive deal would also likely require less non-basketball work.
NBA rookies are expected to sign hundreds, if not thousands, if not tens of thousands of rookie cards. With an exclusive deal, Bronny would sign less cards. It wouldn’t be as tedious.
An exclusive deal may also be more lucrative. A company, whether it be Upper Deck or otherwise, might pay him more than another company, like Panini or Topps or Fleer, etc.
Bronny could make more money for less work, and put more value in each card. Seems like a no-brainer.
There is also the NIL component here. Name, Image and Likeness could foreseeably change the trading card space forever.
As of this writing, to my and Lovegren’s knowledge, there has not been an athlete in high school or college who has signed an exclusive autographed trading card deal. It is an untapped space.
Various NIL laws both by individual state and from the NCAA make the logistics of such a deal murky. The intricacies of that specific area aren’t entirely clear, especially if his future school has a liscensing deal of its own, but it is possible that Bronny could become the first athlete to sign an exclusive trading card deal before reaching the NBA. It’s not exactly probable, but plausible.
What is next for Bronny James’ autographed cards?
Before the card can even be created, Bronny has to play in the game. A card cannot be issued from the McDonald’s All-American Game if the McDonald’s All-American Game has yet to take place.
The 2022 Topps Chrome McDonald’s All-American Game set will be released one day after this year’s game is played. A timeframe for this year’s class, which includes Bronny, is unknown at this time. The set might not be released until March of 2024.
Whenever it does drop, the card will be worth hundreds of dollars right away. For example, a Paolo Banchero card of the same type is worth around $300 on the current market.
However, if Bronny does sign with Upper Deck like his father and never releases another autographed card, it could be worth thousands when it is all said and done. If not more.
The Bronny James effect is very real and the value is in the unknown!