If you’re feeling nostalgic for the good old days of trading baseball cards of the great players, Topps might be the company to check out. The company originally launched in the 1930s and is looking towards a 2021Topps IPO.
Topps sells commemorative collectors’ cards for baseball, hockey, and other sports as well as candy and gift cards. Currently, they’re privately owned by both The Tornante Company (an investment firm headed by former Disney CEO Michael Eisner) and Madison Dearborn Partners.
The company that brought us Bazooka Gum and the pastime of collecting sports memorabilia has evolved with the times. Topps is now marketing its first-ever non-fungible token (NFT) product, a reimagined version of popular Major League Baseball trading cards. The new trend of blockchain-stored digital media as an investment could help the company remain relevant moving further into the 21st century.
During the second or third quarter of 2021, Topps is set to finalize a merger with the special purpose acquisition company Mudrick Capital Acquisition Corporation II. Already publicly traded on the Nasdaq under the symbol MUDS, the newly combined company will take on the new ticker symbol TOPP when it’s official.
- A key sports and entertainment company, Topps began as a bubble gum business back in 1938.
- Topps has adapted to add more confections, baseball trading cards, and eventually new technology like smartphone apps.
- In 2007, The Tornante Company and Madison Dearborn purchased Topps.
- The company recently announced its first NFT product for Major League Baseball cards.
- To go public, Topps plans to merge with a SPAC, Mudrick Capital Acquisition Corporation II (MUDS).
- The SPAC merger is expected to provide $571 million in cash and give Topps a $1.3 billion enterprise valuation.
Related: What is a SPAC?
A rundown of Topps through the years
Picture a different time, a different nation. In 1938, Morris Shortin’s four sons founded Topps in Brooklyn. The family took their failing tobacco business and pivoted to create Topps Chewing Gum, primarily offering candy and confections.
In 1947, they launched Bazooka Gum and would soon feature the iconic Bazooka Joe on comic-strip-style wrappers. The company also made the popular Ring Pops and Push Pops, among other legendary sweet treats.
The very first Topps baseball cards launched in 1949. “Magic Photo Cards” were included for free in packages of gum and featured sports heroes such as Babe Ruth. The company continually experimented with new product offerings like hockey and baseball cards, premium specialty cards, and “traded” cards for players who traded teams.
In 1980, the son of founder Joseph Shorin, Arthur Shorin, became the new CEO. During his tenure, Topps faced an antitrust lawsuit, lagging sales in basketball and hockey cards, and a leveraged buyout that made the company private.
A Canadian company, O-Pee-Chee, entered into a joint venture with Topps that lasted from 1968–1993. This corporate move was intended to improve market reach for hockey cards in Canada.
By 2012, Topps saw the addition of smartphone apps for baseball and football fans. Then in 2016, the company launched Topps Now, a daily trading card based on pop culture and sports.
(Remember Bernie Sanders’ mittens on Inauguration Day? Topps sold more than 91,000 cards capitalizing on the popular meme.)
In November 2020, Topps card sets featuring “Seattle Heroes” were sold in certain Seattle drug stores as a fundraiser for Seattle Children’s Hospital. The 25-card sets sold at a $25 price point and showcased celebrities and athletes with roots in Seattle.
Here’s a bit about the current leadership at The Topps Company:
- Michael Brandstaedter is Topps’ CEO and president, having begun at the company in 2009 as General Manager of Global Confectionery. He previously worked in brand management at Kraft Foods as well as Nabisco.
- John Mueller is Topps’ chief financial officer and has a long and distinguished career in finance and investment banking. He previously served as CFO for Genius Products, Inc. and XO Group. Mueller has been with Topps since 2014.
- David Leiner was a Madison Dearborn Partners associate prior to joining Topps, where he now serves as Global General Manager of Sports & Entertainment.
- Tony Jacobs has worked in marketing and brand management for major companies including Unilever, Nabisco, and the Dr Pepper Snapple Group. Jacobs is Topps’ president and general manager of the Global Confectionery division.
- Tobin Lent is the Vice President General Manager of Topps Digital and brings over 20 years of experience in mobile entertainment and game company development.
- Jeff Mickeal also works in digital aspects of The Topps Company, as general manager of Topps Digital Services. Mickeal has been with Topps since 2011. He was Chief Financial Officer of Launch Media before joining Topps.
Topps fundraising before the IPO
Unlike most companies about to go public, Topps hasn’t been conducting funding rounds. They’ve been through some shifts in ownership over the last few years.
In 2007, Topps was acquired jointly by The Tornante Company and Madison Dearborn Partners for $385 million. Madison Dearborn, a private equity firm, is planning to sell the majority of its ownership stake in the merger transaction.
Path to the Topps IPO
On CNBC’s Squawk Box, Michael Eisner explained recently that Topps had chosen the SPAC route for going public due to the “flexibility and limited distraction to management.”
This isn’t the first Topps IPO. They’ve been publicly and privately held at various times. The company first went public in 1972, then went private in 1984 with a buyout in partnership with Forstmann Little. Another Topps IPO took place in 1987, and they remained a public company until the acquisition in 2007 by Tornante and Madison Dearborn.
The merger with Mudrick Capital Acquisition Corporation II will provide up to $571 million in cash as long as no current MUDS shareholders exercise their redemption rights. The transaction provides for a private investment in public equity, or PIPE, valued at $250 million.
The PIPE, pricing Topps at $10.15 a share, will be funded by $100 million from Mudrick Capital. Another $150 million for the private investment will be from Wells Capital Management and GAMCO Investors. Overall, the company will emerge from the IPO deal with a $1.3 billion enterprise value.
The Topps IPO still needs the approval of the current Mudrick Capital stockholders. The governing boards of both Topps and Mudrick have given their unanimous approval to the Topps IPO transaction.
On May 3, MUDS stock for Mudrick Capital rose 9.3% that day and 36% in the previous week. The surge is attributed largely to the excitement about NFTs and Topps’ emergence into the NFT market.
Related: What you need to know about NFTs
When is the Topps IPO date?
An exact Topps IPO date hasn’t been announced yet, but Topps expects the merger with Mudrick Capital to be finalized either late in the second quarter or early in the third quarter of 2021. The Tornante Company will roll 100% of its equity into the new public company.
The new board of the combined company after the Topps IPO is expected to include the following members:
- Jill Ellis, coach of the U.S. Women’s 2013 and 2019 FIFA World Cup champions
- Maria Seferian, general counsel of Hillspire LLC
- Marc Lasry, co-owner of the Milwaukee Bucks and co-founder of Avenue Capital Group;
- Andy Redman, president of The Tornante Company
- Michael Eisner, former Disney CEO and executive chair of the new board
The Topps Company will continue to operate under the executive leadership of its current President and CEO, Michael Brandstaedter.
Risks and opportunities in upcoming TOPP stock
“Topps is an 80-year-old company with decades of rich tradition and history, but very much built for the 21st century,” said CEO Brandstaedter in a press release.
Even through a global pandemic, the company posted a 23% revenue increase for 2020, which may mean Topps will bode well in the coming years.
Topps believes they have quite a bit going for them as they approach the Topps IPO. Some of the benefits they list in the SPAC merger announcement include:
- A diversified portfolio of intellectual property
- Expansion into digital markets
- A profitable and stable confections business
- An experienced executive team
“The strong emotional connection between the Topps brand and consumers of all ages is truly foundational, and, when combined with our growing portfolio of strategic licensing partnerships, creates a profitable business model with meaningful competitive advantages.” – Michael Eisner
Emotional connections plus investment potential may both be driving the interest in sports memorabilia, as Rob Gough said when interviewed about his $5.2 million purchase of a Topps Mickey Mantle card. “I think this card is going to continuously beat the S&P 500,” noted Gough.
Topps has some key competitors in Nabisco Holdings Corp, Tootsie Roll Industries, The Upper Deck Company, Warner-Lambert Company, Wm. Wrigly Jr. Company, Marvel Entertainment Group, and Huhtamaki Oy.
Topps has shown their ability to adapt to changing markets by introducing Topps NFTs. Non-fungible tokens are hot investments right now, with investors relishing in the prospect of digital art and memorabilia ownership (like a collectible card of a favorite sports hero).
The New York Times noted recently, “NFT mania will allow Topps to take advantage of the secondhand market by linking collectibles to digital tokens.”
The company’s overall shift to digital products and apps will benefit Topps as the SPAC merger winds down and Topps rejoins the public market once again.
With more than 80 years of experience in the sports entertainment and confections industries, The Topps Company has demonstrated their resilience and adaptability. A solid leadership team, diverse set of products, and ability to grow into new markets may serve them well as they become a publicly traded company. Investors will need to do their due diligence to determine if Topps will retain their place in the modernized market.