March 08, 2010

Thoughts on the Last 3 Years in the Card Industry

The following is pure conjecture – not fact, and should be treated as such.

I get emails from my local card shop, and in it I read today that Upper Deck canceled the remainder of its forthcoming baseball products, including Goudey (this must be what happens when you settle out of court with MLB Properties). I also read that the USA baseball stuff it was going to produce will now be produced by Topps. All of this is incredibly interesting to me, and not simply because I collect sports cards. It's interesting to me because it all boils down to one person.

In my opinion, all of this movement of the last year – official licensing, lawsuits, and the like – stems from Michael Eisner's involvement in Topps. And I'd say that Major League Baseball wants to be in bed with a big guy like him – not some small-pond guy like Richard McWilliam.

At Disney, Eisner was a big fish in one of the biggest ponds. He's a brand name all unto himself, and in the non-card universe, I'd bet more people have heard of Eisner than have heard of Topps, and certainly more than Upper Deck.

This latest development brings back the question: in 2007, why didn't Topps cave to Upper Deck's bid of a dollar more than Madison Dearborn's? Did Shorin know something about a wind of change at MLB Properties? Or was he simply looking out for the best interests of the company and the brand by a) not selling to their number-one competitor, and b) by brazenly puffing out his chest and selling the company his way (albeit not in the best interests of the shareholders) without kowtowing to the upstart? It could be a little of both. The other question is: did MLB Properties have a preference in who bought Topps?

I think Eisner has ushered in more good changes at Topps – a shift to the Web, with video and more meaningful interactions with the collector (not just customer service stuff) – than Upper Deck ever would have, or would have had reason to.

For Upper Deck to ever seriously think that Topps could be beaten in a one-on-one for exclusive MLB licensing is preposterous, especially with a heavy hitter like Eisner in the mix. So when 2010 Upper Deck debuted earlier this year, it seemed like the company was on a collision course with a court date.

Seriously, I get it that baseball is the biggest sport with the most money at stake, but why did Upper Deck produce a regular set without being able to show team logos? If they had to fill shipping quotas, keep the cash flow going until they could get rid of their baseball team, and hoodwink the public in the process, why didn't they put out a set like Studio? Or an innovative, every-card-is-autographed, prom-photo set of everybody in tuxedos? Instead, every card read like Upper Deck was thumbing its nose at Major League Baseball.

Also, it feels like Upper Deck doesn't get it that a Topps exclusivity now does not necessarily mean a Topps exclusivity in the future.

Yes, Upper Deck is losing millions now, but possibly not future millions. So why burn your bridges?


Rob- AKA "VOTC" said...

You make some interesting points and the fact that UD owed MLBP $2.4M, plays right into your thinking that the MLBPA might certainly have had an interest in who acquired Topps. However, it has taken forever for Topps to step into the social media platform only recently launching a Facebook page, and engaging with collectors on Twitter. A guy like Eisner certainly has the upper hand when it comes to video, but Back On Topps in the minds of most collectors was a total #fail. UD has outclassed Topps in production, use of social media for years. Money and politics, played into everything including the industry side of The Hobby we hold so dear.

dayf said...

"why didn't they put out a set like Studio?"

That's what I've been saying all along!!! I am totally utterly absolutely pissed I don't get 2010 Goudey now. Stupid Upper Deck. Stupid MLBP.


Chris Andrew said...

I like the conspiracy theory and I bet it isn't too far off.

GCA said...

A shift to the web? Will someone show me where the Topps site that lists current product and readable checklists is, please? I haven't seen it...

skel said...

"Will someone show me where the Topps site that lists current product and readable checklists is, please?"

That would be cutting into Buckett Monthly's lane in the road.

I hate monthly price guides. They ruined it for collectors by turning everyone else into speculators.

Baseball Wallpapers said...

This is not a hobby's just business, lack of passion for the sport...

TonyGillen said...

Keep in mind that Topps was producing football and basketball cards, as well. In addition, Upper Deck already had an exclusive with the NHL and it was obvious that MLB, NFL and NBA would go this direction eventually.

If MLB Properties had preference in who acquired Topps, then the NFL and NBA would have also had preference.

If Upper Deck's bid were only $1 more than the next one, then it would make since to explore why you would not sell to a competitor. If the bid had been $100,000 more it might be a different story.

With Eisner's background with Disney and ABC, it would make since to sell to someone who can push the entertainment side of production, lure more big licensing deals and, possibly, lure younger buyers into sports cards. While WWE and Star Wars are not as big as MLB, they are still major licensed products.

If MLB had a preference in who bought Topps, I would guess that would be a very small part in the decision to sell to Eisner's group.

With Topps losing out on both the NBA and NFL deals in the same year, I would guess they just wrote a blank check to the MLB to gain exclusive rights.