Chase the Base?

10 08 2010

Author: Todd Uncommon

Contained in responses to a “state of the hobby” thread today on SCU, the discussion largely turned again towards whether the hobby would do better to market directly to kids, or to just assume that someone older always buys the cards.  Is it true that kids today don’t buy them with their own money, and might get them only in some sort of trickle-down effect of collectibles?

It is very hard not to extrapolate personal experience as a kid too far into the present. The target market for cards had always been kids, at least until 1989. I think it is safe to say that Upper Deck’s debut with premium cards at premium prices started the end of the kid-budget era.

In 1981, whatever money I got as a kid–allowance, small job, gifts, recycling proceeds, even found change–easily would pay for a fistful of card packs at the counter of my local supermarket or drug store. 25, 35 or 40 cents didn’t take long to add up to buy just one.

Back when 30¢ could get you 15 best friends (and a sticker!). For a while. Maybe.

Today, “retail” options are pretty much limited to discount mega-chains like Target and Walmart, and that same fistful of packs basically come prepackaged in a blaster for $20. Even accounting for inflation, those prices (for arguably less desirable product than hobby edition) are out of reach for any frequency on a kid’s budget, so I am convinced that it is more often some adult’s money that really is the revenue source.

I have to give credit to the card makers for actually trying to make lower-cost products in an attempt to get closer to kids’ budgets: Upper Deck Victory, First Edition, Topps Total, Opening Day, etc. to name a few.  As much of a nostalgic note as it strikes with me to have 99 cent pack options on the store shelves, there is also one inescapable truth. Nobody wants these products.

Why?  Well, the allure of pricier brands is strong, and their lottery-style hits are glitzier than those from these budget brands, even if the cheaper sets have them at all.  Add the fact that with some of these lower cost products, you really can see the quality reduction to meet that price point. UD First Edition is an awful product; it’s basically the standard set, but with the attractive life in it sucked out so it could be sent back in time and sold into Cold War-era Bulgaria.

In trying to think as a kid, I can see why they might spend their three bucks on one pack of Yu-Gi-Oh! or M:TG with a guaranteed rare / shiny / powerful card in the mix, compared to three packs of stodgy, limp looking cardboard.

Hi! Magicians and clowns use me for flash paper at birthday parties!

Topps Total sometimes felt like it was printed on notebook paper, the cards were so thin.  Who wants these when somebody’s richer friends are getting at least flagship to high-priced and shiny cards from their mom, dad, or designated guardian?

I think the secret is not in finding a cheaper price for kids to afford.  What needs to happen, and I don’t know if it’s even possible at this point, is to make base cards desirable again.  Let’s face it, base cards are basically packing material for wide distribution of the hits these days.  Decoy support.  No better than gum, stickers, puzzle pieces, team logo holograms, or lenticular trivia cards used to be.

Now that overall populations of hits like autos and relics are in a glut, to the extent that you can get 4/$10 at your local card shop, the status of the base cards, even in the priciest of wax boxes, has fallen even further.

What "mojo hitz" looked like when your uncle was a boy.

To use my frame of reference as a kid in the 80s, finding the ’81 Fleer Fernand(o), the ’84 Topps Mattingly, or the ’85 Topps Gooden in a  40 cent pack *was* the hit.  Sure, that aspect of getting a lottery hit was present, even back then.  However, today, the lottery ticket appeal is actively marketed, rather than being a market effect of its own accord based on player or team popularity.

The last great base card?

Is making base cards the new chase cards even possible? I think the last time base cards were desirable on their own was 1990 Leaf.  If you got a 1990 Leaf Frank Thomas, you were doing really well.  Since then, chase cards, inserts, parallels, autos, and relics have all come and gone as gimmicks, taking our eyes off the mark of collecting “base” cards just because we like them, not because of what we think the inserts might be worth to someone else.

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This Card Makes Me Sad

21 04 2010

Author: Mario Alejandro

Take a look at this dual game-used memorabilia card featuring the Bash Brothers from 2010 Famous Fabrics. While it’s the card several collectors have been waiting for, it’s an absolute FAIL on so many levels.

Let’s ignore for a moment that the two pieces of fabric, while larger than normal pieces you’d find in Topps and Upper Deck most of the time, is plain and boring. There’s not a single photo anywhere on the card.

Yes, there’s a little graphic of a hitter (a lefty no less) but it’s clearly something pulled from a generic image program and bears no resemblance to “Mr. Truth”, Canseco and “Mr. Denial”, McGwire.

This is exactly why so many of us are mourning the imminent death of Upper Deck. What other company had the balls, err … intestinal fortitude to give player collectors new cards of Pete Rose and Jose Canseco without fear of a backlash?

Topps certainly won’t touch those two despite strong sales on the secondary market for both players and a very strong demand as visible through card trading message boards and blogs.

For those interested in this card (and there are some desperate few), you can check out the eBay auction HERE. It’s currently up to nearly $30 dollars with three bids.

Hey, there’s a sucker born every minute …





Examples of Pinnacle Backdoored Cards

19 04 2010

Author: Mario Alejandro

While my latest article talks about the possibility of Upper Deck cards being backdoored if the company goes under, I didn’t have a chance to show readers examples of some legendary and very expensive backdoored cards from the final days of Pinnacle Brands.

Unlike Upper Deck, which in my opinion had an average year in 2009, it’s clear that Pinnacle Brands were in their prime when the doors closed and the printers were shut down for good. While these cards may be a little “busy” to some, I can attest that in person they are as breathtaking as Elaine Benes.

You can read more about these cards and see more images HERE.





Topps’ Lawsuit Ends Canseco’s Comeback

15 04 2010

Author: Mario Alejandro

Last year after Upper Deck lost their MLB license I remember having a somber conversation with a U.D employee. In a story I wrote, I labeled the new Upper Deck as “underdogs” but was told that now without MLB breathing down their necks they would have more freedom to produce cards collectors really wanted.

I found out just what they meant when I broke the news that Jose Canseco, baseball’s whipping boy for exposing cheaters in the game, would make his official Hobby return in 2010 in Upper Deck’s very popular Goudey line. While Jose has had a card in a Razor and Creative Concepts brand, to a true collector it’s just not the same unless it bears a Topps or U.D. logo.

Well, I just received the sad news that not only is Jose’s return to trading cards cancelled, the popular Goudey line will also not see the light of day. This now means that Upper Deck’s best two retro-themed lines, Masterpieces and Goudey, are now history. While collectors still go gaga over Topps’ Allen & Ginter, it would have been nice to see Upper Deck respond with their own version even in these clearly tough times.

When I left my full-time blogging position at Wax Heaven, Upper Deck had lost baseball and basketball. Since my part-time return, I’ve seen Upper Deck lose football (sorry Gellman) and have heard really scary rumors about the future of the company, including tales of a looming bankruptcy. While I knew this year would be a rough one for the guys in Carlsbad, California, I never imagined it would come to this.

In sports, every once in a while we are treated to shocking victories by the underdog. My all-time favorite is “Buster” Douglas’ knockout win over an undefeated and in his prime Mike Tyson and the spanking the New York Yankees received at the hands of my Florida Marlins in 2003 (can’t buy every championship, guys). Unfortunately, more  often than we’d like to remember, the underdog puts up a good fight but ultimately succumbs to the giant, which in this case is Topps Company.

I’m not saying I’m giving up on Upper Deck just yet but if 2011 rolls around and all I see is Topps MLB trading cards on my Target shelf (what’s a card shop?), it wouldn’t be the biggest shock of my collecting lifetime, which by the way began in 1990 with a Jose Canseco Upper Deck card I still own.





Upper Deck: Where Do We Go From Here?

4 02 2010

Author: Mario Alejandro

It looks like I picked a perfect time to walk away from blogging about the sports cards industry. In my short time away, Upper Deck was sued by Konami for an unforgivable act, released the final 2009 products with logos in full view, and were sued by Major League Properties just days after 2010 Upper Deck Baseball Series One began to hit stores.

I haven’t had an opportunity to view any 2010 products in person but judging by scans, this year’s non-licensed U.D release looks sharper than Topps’ flagship, even without a license. On the other hand, Topps’ flagship is no slouch and although there is officially no apparent competition, they seemed to have put in quite an effort to please collectors.

I have long been a supporter of Upper Deck products because they came out of nowhere and crushed the competition in 1989. Not only that, they introduced to the hobby game-used relics and pack-inserted autographs. Although both these gimmicks are now extremely overused and dull in my eyes, their entrance into the card market forced Topps, Fleer, and Donruss to step up their game.

With that said, this counterfeiting lawsuit made me lose all respect for the current version of Upper Deck. I’ve read ‘Card Sharks’ and even had a chance to interview the author of the highly controversial and eye-opening book and something inside of me wanted to believe those acts by the Carlsbad, California company were long gone, never to appear again.

I have nothing against creative use of logos in non-licensed products. These recent Upper Deck releases (Ultimate, Stars, 2010) look better than anything produced by a non-licensed company. To me, Topps vs. Upper Deck is a war and clearly U.D wants to do everything in their power to win — even if it does bring in even more lawsuits.

However, when the word “counterfeit” enters the equation, there is just no excuse and in my eyes and thousands of collectors’ eyes, Upper Deck will not get a free pass this time around. What they have done (and were forced to settle) is despicable and sadly makes me question the authenticity of all Upper Deck products from this point on.

I’ve always wondered about how easy it would be for a company to lie to collectors. In a time of an economic downturn and with a seemingly endless supply of lawsuits being hurled their way, what’s to stop Upper Deck from using leftover memorabilia and labeling it a “Babe Ruth Game-Used Bat”, for example?

Come to think of it, what’s to stop Topps or Panini from doing the same thing? It’s this kind of negative publicity that will make collectors stop trusting the card companies and help them decide to take their money and business someplace else. If Upper Deck does survive the latest rounds of lawsuits, they owe every collector an apology.

I will admire the beauty that is 2010 Upper Deck but it comes with a bittersweet taste.





Upper Deck’s Silence Is Deafening

2 12 2009

We’re now into December, just a couple of months away from the first baseball releases of 2010 and something is just not right. While Topps Company has already showcased their designs for the flagship brand and Heritage, Upper Deck has been surprisingly tight-lipped.

Sure, they’ve released information, but without images it’s hard for collectors to decide just how much of their money will go into purchasing Upper Deck baseball products. By early November last year, we already had images of their flagship brand, posted exclusively at Wax Heaven.

Here’s what we know: Although U.D. won’t be able to use any Major League logos, they are filling their product with tons of goodies for collectors who chase that “big hit”. So far they have signed popular retired players like Greg Maddux & Jose Canseco, plus legends like Roberto Clemente, Roger Maris, and most recently, “Shoeless” Joe Jackson.

So while it’s apparent that Upper Deck is going to load their products now that they don’t have to pay M.L.B.’s extortion fees, we still need something, anything to go on in the design department. Will they follow in the footsteps of Tristar, who produced their best-looking release ever only after losing their MiLB license?

My biggest fear is that they will continue to phone it in like they did with their uninspired 2009 releases like ‘A Piece of History’ and the once great ‘SPx’. Upper Deck made a giant splash in 1989 by introducing “high-end” to the baseball market but entering 2010 without logos, all it will take is one or two mediocre efforts for collectors to turn their back for good.

Here’s hoping the Carlsbad, California company can find a way to create more historic cards and technology in 2010 because coming into next season, they will be up against an almost unstoppable, rejuvenated Goliath who has just about everyone on their side.

Upper Deck has slayed Goliath more than once. Will they be able to do it again?





Black Friday? More Like Black Doom

27 11 2009

Shane of Wax Heaven’s Man on the Street was once a regular fixture at Wax Heaven. Known as a “high-roller”, Shane would buy several boxes of the highest-end products for collectors to see just what was being pulled from non-Beckett boxes.

Coming out of retirement for a second time, Shane has returned to bust a box of Upper Deck Black Football. In baseball, we saw Black in 2007. The product was beautiful but every $200 dollars box on YouTube was a disaster. It wasn’t until the prices came down that people began to appreciate it. Of course, by then the brand had been put out to pasture.

Well, Black is back and looks even better than before thanks to Upper Deck’s fabulous football design team. I could try my best to describe the cards but it’s best to just read what Gellman says, as he’s kind of the unofficial Black spokesman. Simply put, Black looks fantastic. Unfortunately, once again there have been some really bad box breaks.

So how will Shane do with his $200 dollar box of 2009 Upper Deck Black? Well, check out the gallery of the cards he pulled for yourself. Clearly these look better than anything Panini & Topps has done in football this year but I don’t know how much longer boxes will remain that high.

Shane mentioned that one of his card shop buddies spent a fortune bustin’ Black and finally pulled a cut signature. The problem? It was numbered to 172. It appears that much like was the case with 2007 Black Baseball, picking up singles on eBay may be the best way to go with this product.

Once you go Black … do you go back?