THIS DAY IN MLBPA HISTORY
Nov. 19, 1968 | Topps deal gives MLBPA financial clout
On Nov. 19, 1968, Executive Director Marvin Miller reached the Major League Baseball Players Association’s first licensing agreement with Topps, providing the nascent union with a level of financial stability it had not known in the early months of its independence from owners.
The licensing program’s roots can be traced to September 1966 when Miller visited each team to gather players’ signatures on agreement s authorizing the Players Association to enter group licensing deals on their behalf.
The first deal with Coca-Cola for $60,000 in each of two years, struck in 1966, augmented the approximately $200,000 a year the MLBPA was receiving from its new dues structure and gave the MLBPA the ability to continue operations. It was the first national licensing deal in baseball and helped usher in an era in which professional sports leagues would realize tens of millions of dollars in centralized licensing revenue.
“Baseball had no licensing program as an industry,” Miller recalled in later years. “Some clubs had licensing contracts. But the mass power of organized baseball was never used to further the income of the baseball industry until the ballplayer’s union formed its own licensing program.”
But Miller had been unsuccessful in convincing Topps Co. to renegotiate with the union its pre-existing, exclusive arrangements under which individual players were signed for $5 each and received $125 for each year they appeared in a set. About two years into each five-year deal, the company would offer the players $75 each to extend the deals.
Joel Shorin, Topps president at the time, told Miller that the young union did not yet have “the muscle” – the leverage – to demand changes, a concept Miller understood and respected. So Miller educated players and worked with them to gain the necessary leverage.
“I told the player reps how they were being shortchanged,” Miller wrote in his autobiography, A Whole Different Ballgame. “I said, ‘The only leverage you have is to not sign renewals. Eventually Topps will have contacts with no one.’”
In 1968, players across the board refused to sign renewal deals or to pose for new photographs to
update the cards.
“Sometime after the All-Star break, I received a phone call from Joel Shorin,” Miller wrote. “’I see your
muscle,’ he said. ‘Let’s sit down and talk.’”
After more than two months of negotiations that began in September that year, Topps agreed to
double its payment to individual players from $125 to $250 per year and to pay a royalty of eight percent on sales of up to $4 million and 10 percent on sales above that. The union collected royalties of approximately $320,000 the first year.
Miller had the foresight to build into the players’ group licensing authorizations a mechanism for the pro rata redistribution of licensing revenue not needed to meet the union’s operations budget, creating what would become a lucrative source of income for players.
The Players Association distributed $100 to each player in Spring Training of 1968, demonstrating its value and promise for the future. Today, the MLBPA’s group licensing program evenly distributes proceeds of more than 100 business partners to the players in amounts that far exceed their annual dues.