Sunday, February 21, 2010

What is Upper Deck up to?

I’m not quite sure what Upper Deck is thinking.  After all, they were the ones who started this exclusivity thing back when they signed a deal making them the only company able to produce cards licensed by the National Hockey League.  It didn’t seem like such a good idea once other exclusive deals meant that Upper Deck would no longer be able to produce licensed cards of Major League Baseball or National Basketball Association players.

I’m puzzled why Upper Deck took the course of action that they did with their 2010 baseball sets.  If they really knew their diehard fan base, they would have focused on a sharp looking, well designed set that only included on-card autographs of the hottest rookies and big stars.  No autographs that leave you wondering why they were included.  They could still do the great patch cards that they are known for because I doubt that a partial logo would violate the exclusive deal between Topps and MLB.

High end collectors would have been all over a set such as that one, but it would have required a lot of work by Upper Deck.  They could have had their own photo shoots to get pictures without logos or they could have airbrushed them out of existing photos.  Upper Deck arrogantly decided that they didn’t have to do either.  They decided that they would use the same pictures that they’ve been using all along and if necessary they’d have their day in court.  The only change that they’ve made on their 2010 cards is that team names aren’t listed on the front of the card.  What’s even stranger is that they don’t take the logos off of the cards, but they spend time photoshopping different variations of cards for a contest.

In spite of all of that.  In spite of the fact that Upper Deck counterfeited thousands of YuGiOh cards.  In spite of the fact that some believe that Upper Deck did the same with the 1989 Ken Griffey Jr. RC.   In spite of the fact that Upper Deck has been caught using forged autographs in products.  In spite of all of that and every other transgression Upper Deck has committed, part of me is rooting for Upper Deck to win its case against Major League Baseball.  Not for the good of Upper Deck, but for the good of the collectors.

How can Upper Deck winning this lawsuit be good for collectors?  Hopefully, it would lead to the end of exclusive deals for card companies.  I can’t be the only card collector who doesn’t care for anything that Panini has released for basketball this year.  Many people would love to see Donruss return to Major League Baseball cards.  Hockey fans would love to have another option out there besides Upper Deck hockey cards.

Instead of taking this route, I wish that Upper Deck had played by the rules, produced the same great looking high end cards that they just released and kept the logos off of them.  The product still would have sold well and they could have thumbed their noses at the Topps exclusive.  If Upper Deck played by the rules and still sold a ton of cards, how much is that exclusive deal really worth?  That could lead to card companies rethinking whether or not it’s wise to pay so much money for these exclusive deals.  Instead, Upper Deck is showing that it is a valuable deal because they felt that they couldn’t release cards without team logos on them.

It’ll be interesting to see how all of this plays out.  With the position that Upper Deck has taken in regards to the logos on cards, they either believe that they can win the court battle against Major League Baseball or will do what they want and just don’t care about the consequences.  After reading the brief by Upper Deck, it clearly seems like they think they can win this legal battle.  Whether or not that will be the case will be determined in a couple of months.

At the very least, Upper Deck has taken a hit in customer confidence and trust.  Some of their recent patch cards look a little too good to be true and have many people questioning them.  Collectors are suspicious in light of the counterfeiting of YuGiOh cards.  With the future of the company at risk, good luck to anyone with outstanding redemption cards.  (Has Upper Deck shipped any of the Goodwin Etymology cards yet?)

I’m of the mindset that this is Upper Deck’s last hurrah.  They don’t think that they’ll be able to survive after the Konami lawsuit with only the NFL and NHL licenses to work with.  If they can’t win this lawsuit and continue to produce baseball cards the way that they want to, they aren’t going to be able to raise the kind of revenue that they need to survive.  The jumbo swatches in Ultimate make it look to me like Upper Deck is clearing out their relic inventory.  The ugly, non-design of the 2010 flagship set shows that they were just trying to rush the product out there before those first three 2010 releases caught the attention of Major League Baseball.  Upper Deck could have easily played by the rules, but the fact that they chose to fight this fight would lead one to believe that it is a fight that Upper Deck needs to win.

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