Upper Deck and the MLBP

8 03 2010

So apparently the revolution has begun.  Thorzul and Chris at Stale Gum have started the campaign to mail Ethan Orlinksy (the guy who works for the MLBP and who stated that the real winner of the Upper Deck/MLBP agreement are the fans who no longer have to wonder if a card is officially licensed without confusion) all your extra 2010 Upper Deck cards.  And they hope by doing this that it will send a message to Ethan that he should collect 2010 Upper Deck should realize that collectors aren’t idiots and that the MLBP should relent in the face of Upper Deck and allow them to run willy nilly over copyright laws release baseball cards in 2010.  I think.

Were Ethan’s words poorly chosen?  You bet.  Of course the real winner here wasn’t the collector, it was the MLBP since they’ve ensured anyone who wanted to release cards in the future will have to go through them.  I get that they guy said something dumb.  I’m not sure what sending him all these cards is going to do to change that.

(Editor’s note – Prior to hitting the publish button, I sent this to Thorzul to get his take, and I now have a better understanding (I think) of the whole concept.  So I wish him, Chris, and all those who choose to participate the best of luck. Oh, and this is pretty funny, too.)

But for me, the real question is this: are people really mad that the MLBP went to the courts to defend their trademarks and copyrights?  Wouldn’t the devaluation of these copyrights in the face of Upper Deck’s arguments lead to a massive over-saturation in the market and the eventual downfall of the hobby we enjoy?  The hobby section at the local big box overflows already with a myriad of worthless blasters, and had Upper Deck been victorious wouldn’t we see that many more cluttering up the shelves?

I may be overstating this a little, but so are those who claim the hobby will crumble without competition and the end is nigh if Topps is in charge.  Am I the only one looking forward to this year’s Allen & Ginter, Chicle, and even Pro Debut?  If I am, then yes, the hobby is sunk.  But I don’t think that I am.  And if Topps does release junk set after junk set, no one will buy them and even the hardcore collector will turn up their nose and go somewhere else, like philately or comic books, until another competitor enters the ring and saves the hobby once more.

Now, I do understand the high enders laments.  Upper Deck does high-end very well and Topps doesn’t.  And I hope Topps realizes this weakness and works to improve things in the future.  Otherwise, it will be a long time before these folks are satisifed.

I’ve read countless stories on countless blogs about people leaving the hobby when they become disenchanted by it only to return later when they find something new to love.  Remember, I’m trying to be more optimistic about the hobby lately.  But I don’t think this is the end of innovation, no matter how much Upper Deck wants you to believe that with the latest on their blog.

Even when Topps was an exclusive they tried various oddball releases (deckle edge, stand ups, ruboffs, supers, tatoos, etc).  I haven’t spoken with a collector who doesn’t think the silks aren’t cool. And wasn’t it Topps that first did the mini back in 1975?

And why would I believe that it’s the end of innovation when Upper Deck the company can still implement their great industry changing ideas in, say, that other sport they have an exclusive contract for?  And in light of that deal, is Upper Deck really going to claim that it has led to a staleness in the hockey card market because they have no reason to innovate?  It must have, right? And I also should point out that some Upper Deck’s innovations (such as relic and auto cards) are now some of the same things us bloggers bemoan as worthless and leading to overpriced hobby wax.

I have no pity for Upper Deck on this one.  None.  They knew the rules, they tried to break them, and as a result, they agreed to a whole bunch of things that people don’t seem to like.  But remember, Upper Deck agreed to them.  They agreed to stop releasing unlicensed product. They agreed not to air brush logos or release cards with uniforms or “trade dress.”  It’s not just the MLBP that made these rules.  If Upper Deck didn’t like the agreement, they should have gone to court.  I would have preferred that outcome to hear the merits of their arguments and have a judge rule upon them.  Instead, we’ve got Upper Deck giving up quite a bit in order to save itself.

And remember, as Upper Deck noted in their press release, they aren’t gone from baseball.  They just have to “see  how innovative and creative [they] can become now,” to quote Richard McWilliam.  I encourage them to do it, too.  I’d love to see it.  Why not a NCAA set?  Goudey should still be very doable, it will just have to be more arty and full of close-ups.  The original Be A Player hockey set featured an on card autograph in every pack (and autos are not part of the released agreement terms) and featured hockey players in everyday clothes.  And guess who owns the Be A Player name?

Hopefully some of this innovation comes in the quality control department, too.  Stop putting factory damaged cards in your packs.  You know this is a problem, yet you continue to ignore it.  Or you just make sure that I get the special boxes.  Either way, it only seems to affect your  baseball releases, so that should help narrow things down for you.

Finally, I don’t want you to take this as a pro exclusive license screed.  It’s not.  While I don’t think innovation or creativity will suffer as much as some people apparently do, I do like choice.  Some people prefer Upper Deck’s cards.  Others like Topps.  I get that, and those people should be able to choose what they like.  Instead, the MLBP has taken away the Upper Deck fans’ involvement in the hobby altogether and forced them to choose either what they don’t really want or nothing at all.  The MLBP should know that not everyone’s going to choose what they don’t really want, and they must be hoping that Topps courting of kids will make up for that loss.

So will the exclusive be a net positive for the hobby over time?  I have no idea.  But rumor is that the NHL wants to get away from their exclusive contract with Upper Deck when it comes up for renewal, so maybe they’ve learned something that MLB and the NBA haven’t.  I do know that I’m actually excited about the future of the hobby today, even in light of the exclusive contract.  Topps will have to work to keep the market from getting stale, and Upper Deck will have to innovate in order to get people to purchase their unlicensed product.  To me, that’s win-win.

So here’s to the future of the hobby as a whole.  I only hope that I’m right.

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4 responses

8 03 2010
madding

The only thing I’m upset about is the same thing I’ve been upset about since last year when this whole exclusivity deal was announced. Nothing has really changed, except Upper Deck’s laughable attempt to flout the law. UD probably deserved to lose their deal no matter what happened with all of their own shadiness over the years, but I’d like to see another company get a shot. It’s healthy. And I think with the economy the way it is currently, we were going to see innovation lost anyway. With only one licensed company, however, I think we’ll see that loss of innovation accelerated.

That being said, I’m really looking forward to the first fully licensed/mainstream MILB set in… how long?

8 03 2010
Casey

Great post!

With UD out of the baseball picture, I’m hoping they focus even more energy on their hockey products. Out of all the sports and companies who produce cards for them, I think UD and hockey are the best match in terms of design, price points, and overall product.

Part of me does wish, however, that Topps would make hockey again if only for Heritage/Archives sets.

8 03 2010
jondailey

i have heard that the nhl is looking to move their exclusive license to panini when their ud contract is up…

9 03 2010
Casey

Gawd, I hope that’s not true!

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