I would hate to have been a part of Fleer’s design team in 1997. With the introduction of the autograph per pack, Leaf Signature, the previous year, the world of trading cards had officially shifted into a true high-end hobby. Those collectors who were complaining about Upper Deck’s price tag in 1989 were probably losing their minds over what their beloved past time had become.
Although Fleer and Fleer Ultra had strong outings in 1997, there was just no chance to compete with Upper Deck’s holograms, Pinnacle’s low-numbered Platinum Gold cards, or Topps’ ever improving Refractors, which would one day go on to outlive Pinnacle, Fleer, Upper Deck and ultimately, rule the world of baseball cards. Even Fleer’s parent company, Skybox, was putting out better products than Fleer (E-X2000).
Still, Ultra will forever go down as a memorable brand which took on high-end products during the “Junk Wax” era but ultimately lost that battle to just about every other company in the market. By 1997, Ultra had become a low-budget but extremely fun product to bust if say, Bowman Chrome or SPx was sold out. That’s sad to say but it doesn’t take away from the magic of this brand.
At $2 dollars per pack, lots of shiny inserts, and a 550+ card set, Ultra was a great alternative to high-end. The cards featured crisp, bright photography and the inserts were extremely well-designed and almost better than what you’d find today, which says a lot about the state of Topps’ monopoly. The problem is with 40+ parallels alone in 2018 Bowman, collectors are too blinded to care about anything else.
All signs are pointing to Upper Deck making a run for a MLB license to produce cards again the right way in 2020. Judging by Panini’s terrible reputation and Leaf’s extremely low profile, I’d say Upper Deck is the front-runner to win back their license. While I’d imagine their flagship will get top priority, I hope that they use their Fleer license to bring back a nearly forgotten legend, Ultra, if and when that day comes.
If anyone knows how to make memorabilia and certified autographs work, it’s Upper Deck, the company that introduced those gimmicks to baseball collectors in 1990 and 1997, respectively. However, it would be great if Upper Deck could put someone in charge of Ultra and/or Fleer who is a true collector or even better, a former member of Fleer’s original 90’s design team, if one is out there to be hired.
Topps Company is pushing kid-friendly, low-budget products to appease a certain group of people but little do they know that young collectors do not want to be pandered to. In 1997, Ultra was by no means a “kiddie product” and despite not having any autographs, there were still some pretty hard to find and extremely rare inserts for its time that could help recover most of your card spendings.
Simply put, Ultra could mop the floor with Topps Opening Day and a licensed version of this product could easily put to an end what Panini America has done to the once great Donruss name. Unfortunately, it will take much more than just a blog or dozens of collectors Tweeting nostalgic, it’s up to Upper Deck to continue to fight the good fight againt MLB and Topps Company.
Just know, me and my Ultra cards will be on the front line …