No card manufacturer has ever come close to being perfect. It costs a company millions of dollars each year to be able to use a major sports license on their trading cards. What that means is that products must be produced at an alarming rate and all corners must be cut in order to make a profit by year’s end. These exuberant fees means that programs such as quality control and customer service must run on skeleton crews. It also means that products must be ready to ship to retailers and hobby shops every two weeks without missing a beat. Designs and photography selection takes a back seat, as do timely autograph returns from players, be it on-card or stickers. Graphic artists with experience in the industry can easily be replaced by entry-level college grads and in-house photographers are eliminated thanks to services from Getty Images. The result? Half-assed products, uneven designs, lazy, repetitive photography, 2/3 autograph redemptions, and ideas that just make no sense. These days, collectors are the last thing on company employee’s minds when putting together a brand. As long as a product released immediately sells out (and it always does), the hobby steam engine rarely makes a stop long enough for the printers to cool down.
Today I’m going to be discussing two releases from two different companies that were so poorly received by collectors and retailers alike, that both companies responsible lost credibility that they were never able to regain. For Upper Deck, their disastrous product left them with just two years left in the baseball card market. Topps Company, had a little more time before Panini America swooped in and took their NFL license away. Some times, card companies need a hard reset but other times, the damage done is so clearly irreparable that the only way to quiet the storm is to make a forced exit. It’s been 15 years since these two products destroyed the reputation of Topps’ football and Upper Deck’s baseball programs but once again history is repeating itself with Topps Company recently losing their 70-year relationship with MLB.
2007 Upper Deck Sweet Spot
This product right here was Upper Deck’s attempt to troll Topps Company. The stunt failed so miserably that it ended up directly costing Upper Deck their MLB license after a nearly twenty-year relationship. Inserted in Sweet Spot tins, which retailed at $149.99, were mysterious asterisks cards. On one hand, it was pretty ballsy to take a direct jab at then Topps-exclusive Barry Bonds for breaking the home run records while being a well-known cheater, but really … what the hell were they thinking? Imaging paying a licensing fee of a million dollars to use the Marvel logo and brands associated with Marvel and then releasing an anti-Stan Lee comic book to every comic book shop in the country. How well do you think that would go over? It was a very public company suicide.
The ill-advised Barry Bonds asterisk cards were only the second-biggest blunder that came from 2007 Sweet Spot. You see, while the geniuses at Upper Deck were plotting up their asterisk autograph and a Michael “Buysner” insert, someone decided to go the cheap route on material for their Sweet Spot signature faux leather. The result? Faded autographs that were coming out directly from Sweet Spot tins just 2-3 months after its initial release. It’s one thing to poke fun at your competitor but it’s very foolish to release a high-end product ($150 for 3-5 cards) that eventually ends up ripping off half or more of your customers by releasing autographs that were so faded they could barely be seen. All you need to do is go on eBay and search this product to see that 15 years later, nearly 75% of all Sweet Spot signatures suffer from fading issues or are barely even visible anymore.
It’s safe to say that the illustrious Sweet Spot brand never truly recovered from Upper Deck’s 2007 stunts. By 2009, I was finding tins of Sweet Spot as a mid-level product in retail outlets. An embarrassing end to a Hobby-exclusive that just years prior was one of the hottest inserts in baseball cards. Not only did they go down hard but 2009 also happened to be Upper Deck’s final year as a licensed baseball card manufacturer. Upper Deck did so many things right upon their entrance into the card market and easily outclassed Topps in the 90s but it was clear that their pilot was going to take that plane down sooner rather than later.
2008 Topps Letterman
There’s no way to top 2007 Upper Deck Sweet Spot but at least Topps made an effort. Topps employees, desperate for new ideas and unable to come up with anything at all once again looked to Upper Deck for inspiration. At the time, Upper Deck was dominating baseball cards with signed, manufactured letterman patches in their SP Authentic brand. If you were collecting during this time, you could not go anywhere without seeing one of these beautifully, well-done cards. So Topps, piggy-backing off Upper Deck as usual produced 2008’s Topps Letterman, a high-end product that yielded a signed letterman card (plus 11 base cards). Topps, being lazy or with limited funds to spare decided that getting players to sign manufactured patches was too much work and/or risky so in an idea that set sports cards back twenty years, placed ugly stickers over the letterman patches. That of course, defeated all purposes of the gimmick in the first place.
As you can see below, the results were hilarious. Not only that, unlike Upper Deck, Topps Letterman offered parallels so you had your choice of a basic, sticker letterman or a Pokemon-sparkle letterman if you were lucky enough to beat the odds. In message boards, which were still a thing back in 2008, Topps Letterman was absolutely destroyed by collectors, as well as LCS owners and employees. No one had any idea at the time but Topps’ days in the football market were numbered. By 2016, Panini America took over the NFL license and never looked back. If you ever need a good laugh, just search for 2008 Topps Letterman on eBay and trust me, you will understand why this product was a disaster for Topps.