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The Death of Upper Deck Baseball

By now you’ve probably read on every blog and message board that Topps has won exclusive rights to Major League Baseball. Upper Deck, currently celebrating its 20th year as a company, has been kicked to the curb. While many collectors are rejoicing, a smart collector should realize that with lack of competition, 2010 could be a really lousy year for baseball.

From a critic’s point of view, 2009 has belonged to Topps. Their baseball releases this year have surpassed most if not all of Upper Deck’s brands so far. With the exception of their flagship brand and possibly Goodwin Champions which is around the corner, U.D has been releasing mediocre, run of the mill products like UDx, A Piece of History, and Spectrum for far too long.

Furthermore, they turned a once legendary brand, SPx, into a joke. Long gone are the holograms and amazing designs from the 90′s. Masterpieces, arguably the best low-end releases of 2007 and 2008 was discontinued, while brands like Documentary Icons, and ‘X’ were introduced.

I truly hope that Upper Deck sees this blow as a wake-up call. Remember the time when Upper Deck ruled The Hobby and make a step in the right direction. First up, fix the dreaded customer services issues as I, along with every collector have run into those horror stories on an almost daily basis.

I know every Upper Deck apologist will say it’s not possible but start placing focus on design. Whoever came up with the idea of placing a giant X on every brand should be shown the door. There are so many forgettable releases hitting shelves that should never have seen the light of day. If that means only 3-5 releases in 2010, make them the best damn products of the year.

That being said, baseball cards without MLB logos is going to be a tough sell. As long as you can do something to stick out from the pack (great designs, on-card autographs), there will be a fan base. If we get treated to ‘A Piece of History’ without logos then you just might go the way of Fleer, Pinnacle, and Pacific.

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43 Responses to "The Death of Upper Deck Baseball"

  1. Bill75 says:

    I loved early ud but the stuff they released this year really made me think twice. i hope they can turn things around before its too late.

  2. CPAdave says:

    Wow. First basketball and now baseball. This has been an awful year for Upper Deck!

  3. Sharpe says:

    I very much hate when competition is taken out of the equation. It’s made the sports video game industry stale for certain. I hope it’s not the same for cards.

  4. Joe from the D says:

    Although UD has been putting out some good football products lately, their baseball stuff has sucked. The “X” design is SO played out, yet they keep force feeding us the same garbage for 2-3 years.

    In a way I’m glad Topps will be exclusive, because that’s how it was “back in the day”, but at the same time I’m concerned that Topps will get lazy, pull an UD and not produce anything original anymore.

    maybe just for Mario’s sake they’ll do a Topps Masterpieces?

  5. Bryan says:

    Would it be a good idea to give Panini its license back, so that there is at least some competition in the MLB card market?

  6. chemgod says:

    UD still has hockey and does a nice job with that. Also they own football. Topps has some sets, but they don’t compare with UD. I for one am happy with Topps and baseball. I felt for a long time they should have gotten out of the football and basketball market a long time ago and focus on what they do best, baseball cards. I see this as a good thing for the market. Most of all being less crappy mundane products. Hopefully Topps can make baseball cards fun again.

  7. R- says:

    Yes, Panini should get a Baseball license. They are so starkly different from Topps that it would be good for the marketplace. I, for one, am glad to see UD shake. Hopefully, they’ll go bankrupt.

  8. mfw13 says:

    Would love to see the expression on Richard McWilliam’s face this morning!

    By all accounts he is one of the biggest ***holes around, and he is getting exactly what he deserves considering how he has treated his employees and run the company into the ground.

    If this leads to his exit from Upper Deck, the hobby will be better off for it.

  9. jswaykos says:

    I don’t see this as a good thing in any way. It’s always dangerous when one company has exclusive rights to something…

    I hope this doesn’t ruin the hobby.

  10. mfw13 says:

    This also raises a huge number of interesting questions…

    To start with, can Upper Deck survive financially or will this force them into bankruptcy? By all accounts they were already having significant financial difficulties this year, and this isn’t going to help. According to Pete Williams book, Card Sharks, the partners generally paid themselves a hefty dividend each year rather than plowing profits back into the company, which means that their balance sheet may be in pretty lousy condition right now.

    Second, what happens to Richard McWilliams (besides his head exploding)? I’m not sure what the current capital structure of the partnership is right now (or who the current partners even are), but if he controls less than 51% of the company, are the other partners going to try to force him out?

    And lastly, this leads to the question of whether a company can survive as a major player without an MLB license, something that no company has been able to do so far.

  11. Pretty terrible news for high end buyers like myself. Not sure what I’m suppose to buy without Premier around. Everything pales in comparison to it sadly, maybe it is time to just do football.

  12. Jeff W says:

    I just now saw this. Bad news for us. Ever since Legendary Cuts changed in 08 I havent bought much UD baseball, but no competition will hurt collectors in the end.

  13. Gellman says:

    Exclusivity is never a good thing, even in player contracts.

    When it comes down to it, I would always rather have the freedom of choice, instead of being forced to go to one brand. Thats why I dont get the decision from MLB or NBA’s perspective. More cards equal more stuff out there. Why back yourself into a corner?

    See, people think this will go back to the good ole days, but that was 35 years ago, more things have changed in the hobby than with most industries. If you think its going to be anywhere close, you are wrong.

  14. Tim says:

    One of the problems I have with Topps that probably won’t be fixed anytime soon is the over use of the same photo spread across multiple products as well as years.

  15. mfw13 says:

    Judging from the comments on both this and other blogs, people misunderstand the nature of competition. Just because Topps (baseball), Donini (basketball), and UD (hockey) have exclusive licenses DOES NOT mean that they free from the pressures of competition.

    They are not just competing with each other in the current release market, but are also competing against all the other possible ways that collectors can spend their money, both in and out of the hobby, such as older wax, older single cards, older sets, etc.

    Certainly Topps now will have less competition in the current release baseball market. But to think that this exclusive will allow them to suddenly start putting out lousy products is a logical fallacy of the highest order.

  16. Except they already release a multitude of lousy products lol.

  17. Ricky says:

    Since UD still has an MLBPA license, what kind of cards can they still produce? How will they be different, just no MLB logo? Regardless of the logos or whatever, won’t that still be some type of competition?

  18. petrosian says:

    topps has been terrible until this year compared to UD. funny how they just get canned like that. topps was waiting to get product of the year and then kicked them to the curb.

    Its going to be a terrible year for baseball, Im not going to buy any products

  19. petrosian says:

    a huge part of the bs topps was spewing at the release of this info was that its going back to the way it was for the 30 years where they were the only ones making.

    despite it being popular to collect vintage in those years they wernt any innovations. fthey kept making mostly good designs but other than that Id say the card itself was very simular.

  20. gritz76 says:

    I hear everyone’s argument on the no competition is bad for the hobby, but really, hasn’t Topps and UD just been copying each other for the last 5 years or so? There hasn’t been any real innovations or creativity for some time now. I’m sure if UD comes out with something new for their hockey sets we’ll see something real similar in the next baseball release from Topps and visa versa. If they were truly interested in advancing the hobby they should grant three licenses for three different releases per company. This would force them to create a stellar if they would want it to sell. Having as many releases as they do now allows them to just throw shit at the wall and see what sticks. So far most of it just slides down the wall.

  21. thefead says:

    If UD made all their card sets as well as they make hockey, this would have never happened. How is it possible, that the best products they produce are for the only sport that have exclusively? Shouldn’t competion breed innovation and better ideas? Hell, if SPA Baseball was half as good as SPA Hockey, I’d buy it by the case load. Why can’t they make a product like “The Cup” for Baseball? One can only wonder…

  22. Dave says:

    Holy crap! I had a busy morning and this is the first that I’ve heard of this news. My initial reaction is that this is a very, very bad development for collectors. Sure, Topps baseball products have been better so far in 2009, but Upper Deck is still very superior in developing high end products, providing on-card autographs, and if you look at the last 5-10 years, their products have mostly been superior to Topps.

    The result is that high end collectors will have to focus on other sports, unless Topps greatly improves in that area. The lack of competition will also really hurt. Monopolies are ALWAYS bad for consumers.

    One thing that’s mentioned in the NY Times article that nobody is talking about yet is how Eisner wants to focus on making cards for kids. Sure, that’ll be nice for getting kids interested in collecting, but hey, I’m almost 30. I want to see baseball cards that appeal to adults – and it sounds like Topps won’t be focusing on that.

    I think this is a sad day for collectors…

  23. I read the NYT article, in which most of the quotes struck me as wrong-headed, particularly the claim that this makes the hobby less confusing and more accessible to kids. Because there is certainly no guarantee of that; what’s to stop Topps from producing ten different sets under five different names (Topps, Bowman, Allen & Ginter, Red Turkey, and Finest, say), all at different price points and all with hobby and retail and . . .

    I would have thought a better way to get at the article’s stated goal would have been to limit each company to, say, three sets, like when UD produced the lower-tier Collector’s Choice, its base product, and then SP.

    Personally, I think it’s bollocks. I think MLB was just looking for some more cash, and Topps was just looking for a way to quash Upper Deck. Whom I would now love to see produce a set of all shirtless cards a la early era Studio cards (e.g., Kirby Puckett and the [in]famous Canseco Dream Team card). If only because that would be sort of absolutely hysterical.

  24. David Joseph Smith says:

    Eisner turned the Disney Company around when he became its CEO. He raised the quality of the entertainment the company provided – and produced great profits. Disney is a kind of monopoly itself. The lack of competition did not hurt the quality of its entertainment. But the tickets to Disneyland rose greatly. My concern is not that the quality of the products Topps produces will suffer but that the lack of competition will cause Topps to price its products much higher than it would otherwise be able to do if UD were offering comparable sets. Will Topps Finest be selling at $250.00 a box in 2 years? I love that set and am afraid, I will get gouged when the supplier knows I have no other options. I think pricing not quality is going to be affected by the new playing field.

  25. Base, chrome, finest (with sterling level hits included), heritage + turkey red or a and g. Ud is junk in baseball and we all know it. I’m not a topps homer though, I only buy finest in football, everything else is upper deck and donruss.

  26. Charlie says:

    “Ud is junk in baseball and we all know it”

    Not a homer for any brand, but Topps does not even sniff the pants of Ultimate Collection or Premier when it comes to high-end baseball.

  27. Tribecards says:

    How is this different than when Topps had a ‘monpoly’ the Fleer challenged and opened the market in the first place? How are ‘exclusive rights’ different from ‘monopolistic practices?’ I did not read the article yet, just my initial reaction…

  28. mfw13 says:

    David Joseph Smith has a good point in that the exclusive may cause Topps to try and price their products higher, which would not be a good thing.

    But even then, people can respond by not buying their products. I’ve done several of the Heritage sets without buying wax by buying a base set on Ebay and then picking off the SP’s in small groups.

    Likewise, since I have found most modern wax to be overpriced, both UD and Topps, I have chosen to spend my money on older wax (1981, 1984, 1988 Topps, 1992, 1993 UD, 88-89 Topps Hockey, 93-94 UD Hockey, 00-01 UD Vintage Hockey, 01-02 Heritage Hockey, 2001 Heritage FB, 2002 Heritage FB) and single cards too numerous to count.

    Even with Topps having an exclusive, collectors will still have a huge number of different choices about how to spend their hobby dollars, which is why Topps current releases will still have plenty of competition even without products from Upper Deck and Donini.

  29. willworkforcards says:

    Even if UD has been crap the past couple of years, no innovation, however you wanna put it, they still brought the hobby the modern card, they brought on us the new technology that chances are we wouldnt have if they wouldnt have come around.

    They at least derserve some props for that, because without them, not even topps might not be using the card technology that is used on every single card produced in these times, i think they deserve something for that, not a kick to the curb.

    MLB: this is a very bad decision. I dont care how much you like topps or whatever it is, this is not good for the hobby, not good at all.

  30. Charlie says:

    mfw – you are able to buy that set on eBay because someone is buying the product. So in essence, you are indirectly buying the product. If you weren’t there to buy the secondary market cards, noone would have bought the boxes.

  31. rm121978 says:

    This whole thing happened in a big part because of the Razor debacle. Once it was confirmed that UD was backing Razor, and with the general shadiness that is everything Brian Gray, MLB wanted no part of giving UD a license.

  32. mfw13 says:

    Charlie,

    That is true. But if enough people choose not to buy boxes because they think the price is too high, as I do, eventually Topps would have to lower box prices.

  33. Jew says:

    “Eisner turned the Disney Company around when he became its CEO.

    Eisner had Frank Wells. After Frank Wells died in a plane crash, Eisner completely destroyed the company. The product was shit.

  34. Gellman says:

    Not a homer for any brand, but Topps does not even sniff the pants of Ultimate Collection or Premier when it comes to high-end baseball.

    Premier was one of the best baseball products around before it was ruined by *GASP* exclusive contracts. After Topps took all the players, Premier was no longer possible.

    Exclusivity sucks on both ends, because Im sure that Derek Jeter and Griffey fans would like some Chrome autos to chase.

    Either way, this sucks for everyone, im not sure why people dont want the CHOICE of variety.

  35. mfw13 says:

    Gellman,

    The point I’ve been trying to make it that people do still have a choice, i.e. whether to spend money on Topps current releases or to spend money on older cards, wax, sets, etc.

    Not having UD around does eliminate some choices when it comes to current releases, but it doesn’t affect all the other choices collectors have when it comes to how they spend their hobby dollars.

    Both you and other bloggers who focus their writing almost exclusively on the current release market seem to have forgotten that a huge amount of hobby dollars are spent not on current releases, but on older material.

  36. YanksMVP says:

    I don’t think we should take UD out of the equation just yet. I wouldn’t be surprised if they find a way around this and come up with something unique for collectors. They still have the rights to product baseball cards right?

  37. TSW says:

    This is a really sad day for the hobby. Monopoly cripples innovation. And Upper Deck has been the most innovative company over the past 20 years.

    They were the first ones to debut stunning photography, holograms, pack-inserted autographs, game-used jerseys, a giant letter “X” emblazoned on every card in every set (ok, they’re not always successful).

    Poor decision by MLB.

  38. John Bateman says:

    In some way Upper Deck destroyed the hobby I loved back in 1989. They shifted the money of collecting from the card collector to the card company and card dealers. Before Upper Deck you could pay 30 cents for a pack of cards and get a $10 card. Now you pay $10 for 30 cents worth of cards (in a pack). Goood Riddence. – BATEMAN72

  39. Griff311 says:

    I’ve been collecting UD since it first appeared in 1989 and have loved it since. I’m not a high end collector. I just get the base set from each year. I’m not out to find some high value card. I just enjoy looking at the stats on back and the great photography UD has provided all these years. I have every base set from 1989 until now and the idea of 2010 baseball not being produced the same way really makes me sad.

  40. B says:

    There is contention of whether or not the logo on the jersey belongs to the player or the team…the athlete signs with upper deck so the players league backs up and will contend with the league…if a player can’t make money off cards then the leauge will back down…

    however…if ud can’t pay the players for their autos etc then why should the athletes sign…but there is a lot to be said just for press…Now there are a lot of prospects that are big money makers too…however there is a lot you don’t know…and read the book card sharks..i have an inside prospective from the financial standpoint…they will not go under..but a lot of people will get fd.

  41. B says:

    topps is a corporate business..upper deck is like family…however ud needed some internal rehauling so people stopped being comfortable in their jobs..you will see some strong stuff soon. they are the wolves in the lions den…

  42. Jerry says:

    I will not buy anything from Topps. Baseball and Topps will not tell me what to buy. Soon as a company tells you you have to buy their junk, I am done with them. I don’t care if they have the best cards in the world ever. I live by the Topps factory and I still won’t buy them. Big rip off.

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