UD recently announced their deal with Pete Rose to have his autographs and memorabilia included in 2010 Upper Deck products. This was expected as not having the license has already led to the acquisition of Joe Jackson and other players who may not have been ready to sign. I think this poses an interesting conundrum facing many of the companies out there, however. Is it better to work outside of the licensing if it means giving collectors what they desire? I will say this, Pete Rose has always been a widely collected guy, and giving the people what they want is never bad.
I would say that the biggest issue facing a company without a license is the logos. In baseball and basketball, its much easier because the players are more the commodity than the players jersey and logo. In football, it’s a different story because of the way players equiment obscures their likeness. In theory, a football player’s likeness is the jersey he wears.
Because of this situation in football, there really isnt much of a choice in terms of operating with or without a license. A company could produce college cards to appeal to the niche of college collectors, but that is impossible now with UD in control of that license too. I believe that is why the NFL has such tight restrictions over what goes into each product. There has to be a certain percentage of rookies versus veterans, team logos have to be displayed this way, you can do this, you cant do that. It happens because it can.
For Baseball its completely different, because you can slap a player on a card with a city name, and everything becomes clear. Also, those players that were once a no-no are now fair game. Since the black balled list of players contains two or three players that people love, or love to hate, it becomes very problematic to a company that has to act within the ropes.
Basketball is very similar, though it becomes more about exclusives than anything at that point. If you have the top guys, you can be successful with or without a license. UD has been holding onto LBJ and Jordan for years, with Kobe only leaving recently. Even without Kobe, UD has maintained the ability to drive a product without having logos on their jerseys. LeBron is just as much a marketable presence with his name and number, as he was with it.
Personally, I probably would stick with licensed cards for as long as possible, only because I like having the logos as a part of it. However, if I had the choice between buying products that were able to go outside the boudaries and those forced inside them, I would definitely not give up on my favorites even without the license.