Like a runner rounding third base, Major League Baseball (MLB) is going hard on nostalgia. Its “Field of Dreams” throwback game was held earlier this month, with real-life players in old-school uniforms emerging from rows of towering Iowa corn to “play ball” just the way they did in the 30-year-old movie of the same name.
The scene was otherworldly, to say the least — but by all accounts, it was also a smash hit with the fans, including actor Kevin Costner, who starred in the original film and served as a sort of somber, sleepwalking emcee greeting players and marveling at the scenery. The game attracted 5.9 million viewers, the single most viewed MLB game since 2005, and was such a success that the streaming service Peacock picked up a television series based on the film just a week after the game. Nostalgia sells.
Maybe that’s why the MLB is rethinking its approach to its baseball cards, the exemplar of nostalgic merchandise. The league is ending its seven-decade partnership with collectibles manufacturer Topps when the agreement expires at the end of 2022, according to an MLB Players Association (MLBPA) memo obtained by ESPN.
Instead, as the publication reported on Thursday (Aug. 19), the league will begin an exclusive license with a company not named in the memo, founded by sports memorabilia company Fanatics. Fanatics already works with the MLB on a wide range of merchandise, including apparel, board games, home goods, footwear and more.
The news was doubly bad for Topps: Not only is it losing a mainstay of its business, but it’s also losing its agreement with Mudrick Capital Acquisition Corporation II to go public through a special-purpose acquisition company (SPAC) at a $1.3 billion valuation.
Read more: Topps’ Blank Check Merger Plan Strikes Out
As Mudrick Capital announced on Friday (Aug. 20), “[The deal] has been terminated by mutual agreement, after notification on Aug. 19, 2021 from Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association that they would not be renewing their respective agreements with The Topps Company.”
In its own news release, Topps stated that it “expects to be able to produce substantially all its current licensed baseball products through 2025, pursuant to its existing agreements, and will build on the exceptional performance in the second quarter of 2021 in its sports and entertainment segment, and its confections segment.”
Toys R Back
“Field of Dreams” and baseball cards aren’t the only nostalgic properties getting an update for the 2020s. Macy’s announced on Thursday (Aug. 19) that it is partnering with WHP Global to revive Toys R Us as an online shop, with plans to roll out the toy brand in over 400 Macy’s stores next year.
For Macy’s, the move to capture millennials’ nostalgia for the toy brand is part of a broader push to court customers under the age of 40, using the familiar brand as a draw to get them in the doors (or onto the website, as the case may be).
“Our market share in toys is quite small,” Macy’s Chairman and CEO Jeff Gennette said on a call with analysts on Thursday (Aug. 19). “So, it was an opportunity for us to look at what’s the entry category for Toys R Us kids who are now millennial parents, and an opportunity for us, as part of our under-40 strategy, to go after this category … recognizing that those footsteps or those eyeballs will translate into other purchasing.”
It’s not nostalgia alone that’s driving these deals — it’s money. Real, modern-day dollars, and lots of them. Like the $2.5 billion that Authentic Brands Group (ABG) paid Adidas last week for the iconic 80s footwear and clothing brand Reebok, whose best-known customer is arguably Richard Simmons, the flamboyant fitness guru who turned 73 last month.
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“We’ve had our sights set on Reebok for many years, and we’re excited to finally bring this iconic brand into the fold,” Jamie Salter, founder, chairman and CEO of ABG, said in a statement. “Reebok not only holds a special place in the minds and hearts of consumers around the world, but the brand also has expansive global distribution.”
The company has the opportunity to leverage consumers’ affinity for the 126-year-old brand, which was hugely popular throughout the ‘80s, ‘90s and early ‘00s, though sales have taken a downturn since Adidas acquired Reebok at the start of 2006. Adidas announced its “intended divestiture of Reebok” in March, adding that it would “report the Reebok business as discontinued operations from the first quarter 2021 onward.”
With this deal, which is expected to close in the first quarter of 2022, ABG intends to “maintain the brand’s global footprint,” leveraging Reebok’s international strength. The company highlighted the brand’s 80-country reach and noted that 70 percent of its business comes from outside the U.S. in Canada.
And so if history is a guide, the throwback trend will not only continue, but it will expand, until it gets to the point where so many left-for-dead brands have been financially propped up, resuscitated, repackaged and sold to the public that a bubble forms — and eventually breaks. That’s an outcome that will carry its own share of nostalgia — so enjoy it while it lasts, Fonzie.