With the announcement of the recent news that Panini has secured exclusive rights to University of Texas trading cards, the writing should be on the wall. This is a big deal for their recent strategy. Not only is it clear that they were denied the use of a CLC (NCAA school logos) license, but they have found a loop hole that basically gives them an opportunity to slowly extend their middle finger in response. Texas has been a money maker for UD in the past, only cutting deeper into their margins.
I absolutely hate having to post one of these articles every time they secure another deal, but I have an ever growing fit of nausea that this is going to be a common thing. Eventually they will get everyone important, and it will give Upper Deck a very interesting decision. Continue to produce CLC cards with the remaining schools, or produce unlicensed sets like Leaf and Press Pass.
Lets face facts here, Panini has money, and with money comes the upper hand. Upper Deck is deep into debt, and likely is trying to formulate a plan that will keep them viable to stave off bankruptcy. However, at the same time, I would guess that is exactly what Panini wants to happen. Their cards remain some of the better designed examples on the market, but NCAA is still a niche market. Upper Deck is the lowest hanging fruit in terms of ridding the landscape of competition, which may only be a matter of time based on rumblings within the industry. Its sad, because they have really done a lot with losing both the NBA and NFL license in a very short period of time. Its sad that Panini is slowly whittling away their list of schools available to use.
It also has multiple assets which are EXTREMELY valuable to a company like Panini. Exquisite, Jordan and Lebron would go a long way to legitimize Panini’s floundering basketball operation, and its extreme investment in a very high priced exclusive license. A license that has rarely paid off in any way so far. You can see why it would be attractive to them.
At the same time, eliminating competition is a HORRIBLE situation for the sustainability of the industry. Although Panini is the most stable company thanks to sugar daddies in Italy, its clear that industry health is not of their concern. The only thing they care about is setting their plan for manifest destiny in motion, which will only serve one purpose, and thus limiting the options collectors have.
Exclusives suck. To date, I have seen no reason from a hobby standpoint that people benefit from limited choices. The pain is greater, because not only will an exclusive keep out competition, but it may end the companies as well. Its almost like a permanent exclusive in that way, which is that much more troubling than a league designed exclusive.
University of Texas has a rich history and a rabid fan base. This makes them a very attractive school for Panini to get on board, only solidifying their place in a CLC devoid market. As I have said before, if I am Upper Deck, I am really considering if making unlicensed cards is something that can be done in sports other than Hockey.
Panini is not the company that has made the best and most beloved cards in any of the sports they have taken over, and yet, here we are.