One sphere where there is a dearth of licenses is in the sports card world. On this, I think there is 100% agreement.
Most of the non-licensed (league-licensed, that is) stuff that is released these days are poorly done, in my opinion. Team colors are off, there are too many photos being used where it's obvious that the team name/logo has been airbrushed, draft pick sets of players no one has ever heard of. But done right, unlicensed products can be a good thing. I love the oddball/food-issue sets from the '80s and '90s, most of which did not have an MLB license, but were nevertheless done tastefully.
Panini got it right on the Cano and Johnson cards. In fact, the only way a newcomer to the hobby (who's not aware of the licensing issues) might become suspicious by the lack of a logo is on Robbie's helmet- and that looks like the 'S' could be blotted out by the reflection of lights.
I'll also say this: the odds of me collecting an unlicensed product are much higher if the company issues something with a retro design. I'm probably not alone in saying that, either. Nostalgia plays a huge part in the hobby, and I don't think it's a coincidence that Panini and Leaf often go back to the well from which they had earlier success. Now, it could be due to laziness- that the creative juices just aren't flowing- but I don't think that's the case (or entirely the case).
While licensed products are (by far) the most popular ones in the hobby, you can still find cards that will convince you that a license isn't required in order to make an attractive set (or, insert set).