Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The License Dilemma Gives Birth To Another Big Signing

UD recently announced their deal with Pete Rose to have his autographs and memorabilia included in 2010 Upper Deck products. This was expected as not having the license has already led to the acquisition of Joe Jackson and other players who may not have been ready to sign. I think this poses an interesting conundrum facing many of the companies out there, however. Is it better to work outside of the licensing if it means giving collectors what they desire? I will say this, Pete Rose has always been a widely collected guy, and giving the people what they want is never bad.

I would say that the biggest issue facing a company without a license is the logos. In baseball and basketball, its much easier because the players are more the commodity than the players jersey and logo. In football, it’s a different story because of the way players equiment obscures their likeness. In theory, a football player's likeness is the jersey he wears.

Because of this situation in football, there really isnt much of a choice in terms of operating with or without a license. A company could produce college cards to appeal to the niche of college collectors, but that is impossible now with UD in control of that license too. I believe that is why the NFL has such tight restrictions over what goes into each product. There has to be a certain percentage of rookies versus veterans, team logos have to be displayed this way, you can do this, you cant do that. It happens because it can.

For Baseball its completely different, because you can slap a player on a card with a city name, and everything becomes clear. Also, those players that were once a no-no are now fair game. Since the black balled list of players contains two or three players that people love, or love to hate, it becomes very problematic to a company that has to act within the ropes.

Basketball is very similar, though it becomes more about exclusives than anything at that point. If you have the top guys, you can be successful with or without a license. UD has been holding onto LBJ and Jordan for years, with Kobe only leaving recently. Even without Kobe, UD has maintained the ability to drive a product without having logos on their jerseys. LeBron is just as much a marketable presence with his name and number, as he was with it.

Personally, I probably would stick with licensed cards for as long as possible, only because I like having the logos as a part of it. However, if I had the choice between buying products that were able to go outside the boudaries and those forced inside them, I would definitely not give up on my favorites even without the license.


  1. Topps did a great job from 1970 to 1981 without having logos on the cards but today is a different era. If Upper Deck puts out a set of mostly headshot with an old fashion design it might work. However if they plan on putting out 10-15 different sets and hide the logo on each then it will not work. I remeber the Lebron cards of him in a white t-shirt (with his high school name whited out) back in UD'S 2003-04 draft pick set and it was ok. But it was only one set. After that he began appearing in his Cav uniform.

  2. great point regarding the helmets obscuring the players faces. The NFL likely has the best team branding of the major sports. Another factor is the relatively short careers of most NFL players versus the other sports.

  3. The licensing issue really wouldn't be an issue if they focused on making a small number of very well done releases.

    With so many releases each year, the logos just kind of enable the companies to be lazy and not have to worry about it at times.

    But still, I root for the team as much as the player and the logos do count.

  4. I think it's a mistake for UD to include Pete Rose, who is one of the most polarizing athletes in the history of major league baseball!! UD, do you want that image coming across? Then again, UD did stick with Tiger Woods through his whole mess. Now I'm just comparing apples (team betting) to oranges (infidelity).

    The NFL is the most 'team' oriented league in professional sports. Case in point, excessive celebration penalties (ask Ochocinco), no jersey changes, and so forth. I think the league gets a bit overboard about things, but that's just my opinion!

  5. I think the league(s) put extra stink into the crappiness of today's sets with that requirement for every single set to have some percentage of rookies in it. That's why new stuff is almost all the same - companies can't diversify their products' checklists. They effectively kill the idea of producing a relevant "greats of the game" set ever again. So we're left with the flagships, retro, low end, high end and everything else all having the same dang guys in them - the starting lineups, a few retired superstars dispersed randomly(as regular cards or rare variations) and the last half as no-name rookies. Ho Hum.

  6. "In theory, a football player's likeness is the jersey he wears."

    Aside from a handful of players like Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, perhaps Adrian Peterson, etc I think this is stronger than a theory. If a sports card company were to produce a product consisting primarily of head shots, most people wouldn't be able to name the vast majority of the players included in the set.

    That's the nature of football. Most of the time you're going to see a player during a game when he's on the field - so the best you can do is to associate a jersey to a player. I think you see this in hockey as well, though to a lesser extent.