More on Upper Deck, Exclusivity and the Hobby

You may all be sick of this stuff by now, but I’m fascinated by the lively discussion.  There were a few comments from yesterday’s post that warrant a good response and I thought it would be more interesting to make into a separate post.

Alex and Wax Wombat differed on the true nature of Upper Deck.  I don’t think the company is evil.  I’m also not saying that the other companies can wear halos, either.  But, the other companies either don’t practice business methods that are outright illegal or are doing a much better job of covering it up.  There are certain industries that lend themselves to multiple lawsuits over a short period of time — The sports cards industry isn’t one of them.

With all that said, I don’t hate Upper Deck.  They have an unusual take on business, however.  The more I think about this logo without a license nonsense they pulled, the more I think it was all a very-well thought out portion of their business model to recover after the Konami settlement.  It was very risky, of course, but drastic times call for drastic measures.  Personally, I think it was the coward’s way about doing things, but hey.

Like I said in my last post, I was surprised Upper Deck wasn’t hit harder than they were.  This settlement is the next best thing to winning and by no means spells the end of them.  They have an incredible amount of buzz around them now and everyone will be looking at their next few products to see what they come up with.  Do you think that would be the case 5-6 products into their release cycle if they didn’t try to cheat the system?  It’s not like the exclusivity was a surprise to them.  I’m sure they’ve been planning their safe releases along side the controversial ones.

I look forward to the innovation they can come up with.  I’ve only been back into collecting a short while, but I’m excited to see cards in a new way already.

As for Topps (since I haven’t really gotten into that much), I know everyone’s ringing the death knell of the hobby lately, but I think having one company as the exclusive licensed card manufacturer will actually help a lot. I’ll give you that MLBP’s statement was ridiculous, poorly worded, and pretty damn insulting.  But, consider these points from the POV of those who would only care about licensed cards.

1) For those that care about licensed cards, it’ll help by greatly reducing the amount of choices we have.  I know that dayf was claiming this to be a bad thing.  I’m going to argue the positive side by thinking of the hobby’s future.  While this is alienating some consumers, I think it will actually bring more into the fold.  A big reason a lot of us left the industry was due to the over-saturation of the market.  When you’re a collector and you’re faced with 30-45 products to try to grab cards from, it’s just too overwhelming.  I left the hobby because I couldn’t keep up as a teenager.  If there’s less to focus on, I’m more inclined to try collecting new things.

2) The lack of saturation in the market will gradually bring prices up.  This may sound counter-intuitive, but this is good if you think about it.  Ignore exclusives for a second, too.  Right now you have close to 30 baseball sets in any given year.  Virtually all of them have some form of autograph or relic card.  Most of them have paralells.  If all of a sudden you cut that number at least in half, even with the consumers that abandon the sport, you’re still looking at an increased demand for those hits (or team cards or individual players – assuming Topps doesn’t up production of base/inserts to compensate…).  Right now, someone can say “oh, I want that Ryan Howard /50 from Topps, but I’ll just get the Upper Deck one instead.”  Soon they’ll have to fight for cards a little bit more, which will drive the price.  This doesn’t sound good for collectors on an individual level, but it can help the hobby as a whole.  Higher demand means instead of waiting a couple months and grabbing a card online for $2, people will buy more packs/boxes looking to either grab the hits themselves or so they can sell them at that higher price.  And doesn’t better resale value sound nice?

3) I personally think it’ll force Topps and those exclusive license holders in other sports to put out a quality product.  Again, this sounds counter-intuitive, but the licensing companies aren’t dumb.  If they see Topps isn’t performing well because they’re phoning it in, they’ll either jump ship and go to UD (well, maybe not until they pony up the dough already owed) or Panini or they’ll open up the flood gates again to force Topps to try.  Upper Deck should and will be gunning after Topps now more than ever, so if Topps gets complacent, you could see a massive shift real quick and that little seal of approval they’ve plastered everywhere will go bye-bye.

4)It’s forcing UD to become creative and think outside the box.  I mentioned it a little in my last post, but I think it’s a great opportunity for them to go after younger collectors.  It’s a great opportunity for them to change the game again, which we know they are capable of.  When you have mad scientist executives like they do, you shouldn’t count them out just because there’s no license.

I’m sure there’s more to say, but isn’t that enough for now?

5 comments to More on Upper Deck, Exclusivity and the Hobby

  • The cynic in me says that MLB would only really care about the check Topps writes every year, and that half the Topps products stink anyway, so why would they give a damn when there is no competition?

    END EXCLUSIVES NOW MLB! Limit the number of sets by each manufacturer if things are too complicated for you guys to understand.

    And hire a new spokesperson, or muzzle your lawyer. Please.

    Good read. It will be interesting to see what happens. But suddently I don’t feel like going after Topps series 2…

    • Jon

      cardsplitter, first I’d argue that there will be competition, but MLBP would give a damn when there’s no competition because as we’ve all been showing, and as Thorzul is trying to drive home, the collectors are smart. If the products suck, we’re not buying it. That means unlicensed companies such as Upper Deck and Panini, etc can come swoop in and take that market share with creative interesting cards, logos or no. MLBP will care when if it ends up hurting their bottom line. Topps hasn’t had great designs this year, but I still don’t think they’re being complacent. If they were really trying to phone it in so early, they wouldn’t have put together the Million Card Giveaway. Now they just have to use that momentum and the momentum from this lawsuit and snowball it. If they coast they’re dead and dayf’s theory starts to go into practice.

  • The available new product has just been cut in half. Wait until some already economically stressed hobby shops start to go under because they depended on selling new product to stay afloat. Then tell me how good a deal this is when at this time next year your only collecting choice is to go to Wal-Mart to buy a pack of Opening Day.

    • Jon

      dayf, new product has been cut in half only if you care if the card is licensed or not. I certainly could be wrong, and maybe I’m just being overly optimistic not willing to admit that the hobby I recently came back to may be dying off, but I do think the industry will be better off because they’ll be able to draw in more fresh blood. They’ll be able to sell more new product to stay afloat. Whether it’s new collectors introduced to the hobby through licensed stuff now that there’s less sludge to tread through, or new kids coming into it through non-licensed cards (I know there’s no evidence of this, but I’m pretty convinced that this aspect is key). Also I want to believe that the kids that have been buying Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh cards may be getting too old for such games and will get their collecting fix with sports cards.

      Personally, I’ll buy unlicensed cards if they look good or bring something new or interesting to the table. I think most of us bloggers will. If we aren’t buying unlicensed, then that’s probably the manufacturer’s fault for failing to draw our interest, not necessarily MLBP’s. It’s easy to blame them when they make such a condescending, moronic statement. And your take on the issue is unfortunately very, very plausible. Perhaps you can see my side as me playing devil’s advocate for how this could actually turn out okay.

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