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?