Thursday, April 8, 2010

The End Of An Era - My Reaction To Upper Deck's Departure From Football Cards

Now that everything has officially been announced and commented on by Upper Deck, I want to put a little perspective on this whole situation. The reason is that there seems to be two sides of the aisle on whether or not this is good, and I think its time to go over what this truly means for the industry and for the hobby. The reason I separate the two is because of their intrinsic makeup of the people that populate each group. In the hobby, the majority of the population is collectors who would collect regardless if there is an industry or not. They just want to better their collections, and in some cases make the most money off said collections. This part will probably live on for many years to come. The industry, on the other hand, is made up of manufacturers and hobby media whose sole purpose (aside from producing the cards) is to make as much money for their company and shareholders, all while keeping the hobby happy at the same time. This part has a limited lifespan, now possibly made shorter by Upper Deck's inability to secure an NFLP license for their cards.

Now that we are familiar with the players, its time to talk about the game.

Basically, Upper Deck's departure from football and baseball cards now puts some people, like myself, in a pretty ginormous predicament. As we saw with the first time this news was brought up a few weeks ago, there are a lot of people who love what Upper Deck puts out every single year. Those people are now left with a void that is unlikely to be filled with cards from Panini and Topps due to any number of reasons. Because Upper Deck was the only company that focused as much on design and layout as they did on set makeup and product development, we are now entering an age where stickers and poorly conceptualized sets will reign supreme. In fact, products with on card signatures of veterans and stars just went from 5 complete sets (Philadelphia, Black, Ultimate, SPA, and Exquisite) to a big fucking goose egg. Of course, Panini will lead you to believe that their signed manupatches are on card, but they are not, and we are left with 100% stickers for the foreseeable future. Sets that feature on card rookie autographs went from 5 complete sets and 9 partial sets, to 3 partial sets if Classics still features those terrible School Colors paint pens shit and Contenders comes back with the bubbly shit. National Treasures, if everything remains as is, will be the only set that features signed memorabilia cards, and they will be 100% rookies.

I get that there are people out there who don’t care about on card sigs, or even that the industry has basically regressed to the dark ages of 2004 and 2005, but this is absolutely terrible for those of us that live for them. Even if Topps were to come back on, they bring a product slate of huge foil stickers and triple threads. How does that replace a set like SP Authentic? It doesn’t. Basically, for the collectors who care as much about the way a card looks as they do about the relics or autos, we are left with one or two sets that I could see being a viable target for purchasing singles. I have a feeling that this may shrink the base of collectors who buy current stuff more than people think.

Another factor is the outstanding redemptions from a company that needs to issue them due to said on card signatures. There are many collectors out there who have a ton, and its very plausible they may get screwed on ones that they pulled or bought. That is not a good sign for anyone, although it is still possible that they may continue to pursue athletes to sign their outstanding cards. Basically, if you have some you have been waiting on, I would start an email campaign to get them replaced while you have the chance. Although there has been little comments on this from UD themselves, its better to be safe than sorry. If you are going to purchase UD redemptions, I would definitely think twice before doing so.

Most importantly, unless Topps is reinserted into the mix, the lack of competition for an already inferior Panini brand could result in a black hole of innovation and creativity. Remember, this is a company that puts out at least 5 sets (absolute, elite, prestige, gridiron gear, and limited) that are practically the exact same as the year before. Before they at least had to compete with both Topps and Upper Deck for industry market share, but now there is not a single reason to break away from their formula. Where else are people going to go? I understand that they have tried to improve upon content with adding minor amounts of on card stuff to sets like Contenders, but in just about every case, they have failed harder than a beginner skater on a high rail. Get ready for year after year of rehashed product with little more to offer than the previous year. It was the reason I hated Triple Threads originally, and its now one of the main reasons I wont need to buy any set from the official card manufacturer of Rainbow Foilboard City.

Upper Deck may have made some awful mistakes that probably cost them the company, but they never ceased producing cards that people went ape shit over. They were so many miles ahead of anyone in mid to high end, that it made Topps and Panini look like they were working with a team of five year olds. If you compare products from Topps and Panini side by side with what Upper Deck offered in practically every god damn set, the difference in quality was unfathomable. Topps may have low end cornered with the chromes and their flagship set, but they are still gone from the market as of now. When it came to everything above the low end price point, Upper Deck won every single race by multiple lengths due to their ability to secure on card signatures and create innovative ways to get fans what they wanted. Whether it was the introduciton of crazy amounts of player inscriptions, ridiculous 1/1s, or even something as simple as social media from a manufacturer, they took it to the next level. Say what you want about their business ethics, but its hard to deny that their shit was the Bentley of the collecting world. Sadly we are left with a Chevy now.

Adding to the plight of the collectors in this hobby, I don’t think this bodes well for the industry, either. When you practically chop off one of its appendages, it puts more strain on the other ones to maintain control. Though Topps and Panini have large companies behind them, those companies just lost an advertising vehicle that brought people back to the hobby or introduced them to it for the first time. Its not unlikely that someone hooked on cards would buy from all three companies, and now that they only have one company to choose from in each sport, there will be a drop off. Plus, if recent trends continue to be status quo, the quality of the products they can choose from will be sub standard to where they were just one year ago.

Basically, if you like busy designs, stickers, and foilboard on top of foilboard on top of foilboard, this is your football golden era. Have a blast with all the crap coming down the sewage line. I havent bought a box other than Chrome or Upper Deck in almost two years, and now I will be left to existing Upper Deck products to fufill that itch. Hopefully, Panini stops using the stock backgrounds on photoshop for once and turns it around soon. Then people like me will have something to buy again. Prestige, Prestige Chrome, Classics, and also Rookies and Gridiron Limited Treasures will not keep me interested.

I sincerely believe that the industry will find a way to trudge on in the landscape post Upper Deck football, but it will not be at an elite level any more. The cards that got me going and kept me salivating are gone and in most probabilities, will never be coming back. I will have to come to terms with that fact, but I doubt it will happen until one of the other companies decides to pull their head out of their ass and deliver at the level that UD did. Upper Deck may continue to produce NCAA licensed cards, but I think my feelings on Press Pass and SAGE will supercede any shot I would give those products.

People, this is the end of an era, practically 20 years in the making. Thanks for the Memories Upper Deck.


  1. I agree with you almost 100% here. Some of the reactions on forums seemed almost giddy that they were gone. I don't understand that. If you don't like a product, don't buy it. There's no reason to applaud what could essentially be the death of an entire company, though.

    Also, I'd like to make one small correction in your article. You mentioned NT and Classics as the only two Panini products with on-card autos, but some of the rookie tickets in Contenders had on-card autos.

  2. I echo similar sentiments in my post with a look at the bigger picture. I am going to miss Upper Deck products BIG TIME. Karma's a bitch and we reap what we sow. Those cliches are playing out in grand fashion and it is the collectors like you and me that pay the penalty.

  3. Topps has been moving more toward on-card autos, for what it's worth. That SAID...

    I like some of what UD has done design/set wise, but not a lot. I'm one of those people who cares less about high end sets and is happy with low end and mid-range (everything under $100). Then again, I'm the type of person who wants the CHASE back in chase cards, rather than the "4 jersey cards per box and 1 sticker auto of whozitwhatzit." I'd rather have 1 good patch and auto be found in every other box. UD is not alone there, though. That's more of a demand issue anyway...

    The industry will live on. There are other companies who do a LOT without a license and do it WELL (ex: ITG). There are non-sport companies who consistently wow collectors (ex: Rittenhouse). I highly doubt Upper Deck will go the way of the dodo.. I think they will evolve (even if that means serious downsizing). It might just be what the industry and hobby needs right now. It might force Panini and Topps to step it up (as sales will drop if they put crap out), and it might allow someone else to sneak in, and Upper Deck to flourish with new ideas, new focuses.

  4. As much as you and I squabble, I think we have the same feelings. A terribly ran shady company got what they deserved, but unfortunately we lose their products. It is a win/lose situation in my mind. I'm neither happy nor sad, just anxious to see what comes out this year now.

  5. So, how does this affect existing redemptions for people? I've got four redemptions I've been waiting on with UD. They say two are available and waiting to be shipped, but they've been at that status for over two weeks now. I, like you and others, am waiting on a SPA Harvin redemption. What are the odds none of them are redeemed?

  6. Per Upper Deck, player contracts still stand, and they will continue to pursue the signatures. Im not going to hold my breath though.

  7. I don't think this is a win for anybody, it's a lose/lose situation. Less competition=less quality products.

    From a collecting standpoint, I couldn't care less about the licensing if UD wanted to keep making great cards without team logos. I think most people would be on board with this also, and I wouldn't even be worried about it, except I felt the same about baseball and then UD abruptly pulled the plug on all their baseball cards. I sincerely hope this isn't the case with football, because there will be a huge void left that could cause a lot of fair weather collectors to move on to greener pastures.

  8. What are the odds that Topps will be let back in? I've always focused on Topps, SPA, and Bowman Chrome. It's possible I'll be out of collecting all together if some changes aren't made before next season.

  9. would it be safe to still buy SP Authentic while we still have it or would we just be wasting our money?

  10. It's a great day for the hobby. The crooks at UD are out and hopefully the endless UD slurping that goes on here will stop.

    Your sugar daddies at UD are done, Gellman. Time to start being honest with your readers. Admit the bias was paid for.

  11. What does this mean for the validity of their blog awards?

  12. Oh Carnie, McB, Brad, whatever your name is, you are truly my favorite stalker. I normally dont respond to people like you with too much time on your hands, but I thought this needed mentioning.

    It sure is funny that after all the poor things you have to say about UD, you sure like to buy a lot of their product. I did get some interesting news just how many cards you have redeemed over there and how many products you buy from them and their distributors on a regular basis. For someone that thinks they are "crooks," I guess you dont extend that over to buying their shit. Maybe I am the one that should be questioning your motives.

  13. It sucks BUT I don't think all hope is lost for two reasons ...

    1. If Topps and Panini want to earn the business of people who like UD's products, they will have to make products similar to what UD was doing. That means more on-card auto's, better designs, etc. We are lucky to be living in the digital age where people from Topps and Panini can easily visit the blogs and boards to find out what collectors want. If they're smart, they'll produce what people want and fill the void left by UD.

    2. With the loss of football and baseball, UD will surely downsize, and many of the creative people behind the UD products that you like so much will be looking for jobs with Topps and Panini. And of course, Topps and Panini would be smart to hire them. This will surely improve the quality of Topps and Panini's products.

    One thing to consider about Panini is that they just took over Donruss/Playoff last year, and it's going to take some time for them to start producing top-notch products. Many of the stuff they've produced over the last year is crap, but they are taking small steps to get better. They might never reach UD's level with high end, but I'd be very surprised if their products in 2010 are not much better than what they delivered in 2009.

    And finally, think of it this way ... with your baby coming soon, and no new UD products to spend money on, you'll be able to devote more of your finances to saving and baby expenses. I'm finding this out with my baseball card collecting this year. Without UD, there are many fewer sets (and NO 2010 sets yet with Evan Longoria auto's) so the amount that I'm spending on cards has dramatically decreased. That is bad for my collection, but good for the other important parts of my life and my bank account :)

  14. no more SP Authentic I guess if Panini made set with ALL on card autos and white backgrounds, collectors wouldn't buy it? (I have a hunch next years Contenders will look more like SPA products than foilboard products).

    I'd play the violin for those exquisite lovers as well, but they are probably filing for bankruptcy as they paid $500+ a pack for chipped and unmemorable cards this season. The only reason those pack prices were so high were to guarantee some income for UD- they have a ton of memorabilia in stock that they can't move because its overpriced (just check out the UD retail store in OC)

    Panini just got into the football business- give them some time to feel it our and innovate. Same thing for their basketball products and same thing for their hockey products. They need 2-3 years to figure out the formula for happy consumers.

    Lets face it, UD got what was coming to them. It sucks for those people who planned on doing SPA RPA sets for the next 50 years, but someone else will get the formula right.

    Gellman, it does appear that you are more upset about losing your hobby insder status than what you lose as a collector. Just my 2 cents (which I'll put towards a box of NT)

  15. Right, because I had hobby insider status to begin with? I get 99% of my info from sources unrelated to UD. UD only gives me the company line, nothing more. They cant.

    Even though UD is done with football cards, it doesnt affect anything with me.

    Plus, I sincerely hope contenders moves away from where it is now, that would make me VERY happy.

  16. I didn't think you were hobby insider either...but then you pull this stuff "I did get some interesting news just how many cards you have redeemed over there and how many products you buy from them and their distributors on a regular basis. For someone that thinks they are "crooks," I guess you dont extend that over to buying their shit. Maybe I am the one that should be questioning your motives."

    So obviously you have connections to the inside people...just calling it as I see it (and I've been reading your blog for over a 15 months now)

  17. In reality Upper Deck "hits" were really not better than anyone elses.

    I recently bought my first UD hits. It was a Chris Long auto - The back of the card said Chris Johnson - What?

    I bought a Divac Grant dual jersey card. Divac was in a Lakers Uniform but the jersey was from the Kings, Grant was pictured as a Magic but his jersey was from the Lakers - WTF.

    In reality, Topps (plus Bowman) has a brand name (they will be back in football sooner than you think) and its chrome brand is the best value in the Hobby - I just wish I had some of those 2007 and 2008 Jason Heyward Chrome cards

  18. Lots of Gellman jealously floating around here! Why would a major company pay a blog anything?

  19. That's what I have been saying. Anyone who knows anything about the industry knows that no company would waste their money like that. I reach what, maybe 900 people a day, some of those being repeat visitors. It wouldnt make sense to give me any sort of money, especially when I have such little pull. Besides, do you really think I would be able to post all those fucks and shits if Upper Deck was paying me? They wont even link me on the blog they have because of the profanity.

  20. Wow. Go on holidays for 10 days and something major happens.

    What can I say? Will I miss Upper Deck? Not really. Their products were too rookie focused, with too little veteran content. On top of that they were always way too expensive for what you got. When you take that into account with all the crap they have done to screw collectors and the leagues over the last 30 years, part of me is happy they lost their football license.

    Panini is still in the game, so I'm happy with that, though I would prefer it if Topps were given a license again. AND if Uppper Deck can show for say 3 years that they aren't the unscupulous, unethical bastards they have been shown to be for the last 30 years, then they should be given their license back. Yes, competition is good, but not when one of the competition (Upper Deck) is the equivalent of a gangster. Upper Deck needs to show they have cleaned up their act before being given a license again.

    On the other hand, there may be consequences as a result of them losing their license. I'm almost certain one of them won't be Dick McWilliam being given the flick, or the other fucktard executives and upper management getting canned. These are the people who should suffer from the consequences of their actions, but they rarely do. Unfortunately the people who will likely suffer, either by losing their jobs, having their pay cut or working longer hours are the ordinary Upper Deck employees. And that is why part of me is unhappy and concerned about what has happened. I just hope I'm wrong and none of the ordinary Upper Deck employees suffer as a result of what the pigfuckers like Dick McWilliam have done.

  21. Upper Deck will rise once again...

    Trust Me..