The License Dilemma Gives Birth To Another Big Signing

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.

Its Funny Because Its True…

The fact of the matter is that Kobe is only one brick in the wall that needs to be built for Panini to actually have the success they need to counteract the license money they spent already. Per many industry people, they grossly overpaid for the ability to produce NBA cards, then spent absurd money to sign Blake Griffin and company, followed by throwing more money at Kobe, when they still have no Jordan, LeBron or others.
Design is also going to be a huge factor, there is no question in my mind. With UD being the overwhelming fan favorite, to go from the best looking sets of the card year, to the ones that look like the unholy abominations they create in a lab somewhere for football, is not going to go over very well. Basically, Panini is not going to compete, especially with UD most likely continuing their basketball production. Even if they get Jordan or LeBron some how some way, I would still see collectors going away than continuing to buy the Panini junk. Think of it this way, if Mercedes left the market and all that was left is Kia, people would still go buy old Mercedes for their luxury cars rather than switching to a inferior brand.
Dont get me wrong, there will be some who will embrace the change, but not the collectors that UD hinged their continued success on. Basketball is a different animal, with the majority of the collectors focusing on super high end rather than the base stuff and mid end like the other sports. This is only further evidenced by the fact that even at 800+ dollars a box, 09-10 Exquisite sold out in 3 hours, even though 08-09 Exquisite was less than two months old. Without Jordan, LeBron, Garnett, and the other UD exclusives, Panini has lost the ability to duplicate that cash flow to subsidize the brand. They can pump out shit like Prestige and Limited all they want, but its not going to make up for their inability to cater to the existing install base.
Personally, I feel bad that Basketball collectors will now have to settle for this:
Instead of this:
Thanks to Mario for the UD poster.

A Comment On Exclusive NCAA Licensing

Im so glad this industry has turned out to be eye for an eye type of crap, right? Well, Topps signed an exclusive deal with MLB for their license, so UD signed an exclusive deal with the NCAA licensing people. Upper Deck sues topps, Topps sues Upper Deck. Its all about who can kick the other’s nuts the hardest, and personally, its gotten to the point of absurdity. Although the MLB license was huge in baseball, the collegiate license is huge in just about every other sport. It basically puts Press Poop out on their ass, and prevents Panini, Topps, SAGE and everyone else from making logo ridden college cards. This will basically damage pre-premiere releases for all those companies, no doubt, and I don’t think that is very good at all.

I will continue to post my repeated feelings on contracts as long as shit like this goes down. Exclusivity sucks, bottom line, because it basically puts you ahead of the competition by force rather than by content. Really, as much I as I have despised the absolute donkey crap that Panini has put out, I would at least like them to get the chance to redeem themselves next year. Granted, it is only 5 of the 16 sets of the year, but that is 5 I would like to see at top form for everyone – not just one company. Exlusivity hurts collectors because it takes away the choices we have, both for baseball, basketball and also for football. Now that I will not be able to get the college uni cards that look like the college unis, I will DEFINITELY avoid those products even more so than I already do. I really dislike cards without the pro shit on them, but I still have some singles from the targets I collect. No more, for sure, if I have to deal with logoless cards. What’s the point anymore if it gets that far?

Really, this is only a bad thing, just as it was in Baseball with Topps, and the pettiness of the contract is dripping from the pages. We get it, the first strike is always the worst, as it was here too, but this is not faring much better for anyone.

I swear, if an NFL exlusive is reached, regardless of company, I will never forgive the NFL and NFLPA for allowing it to happen on their watch. Thankfully, with Panini GROSSLY overspending on the NBA license, and Topps doing the same on the baseball, im not holding my breath. Yet, only time will tell. Let the pandering begin.

One Final Comment On My Disgust Over The Topps Exclusive

Michael Eisner says its time to bring kids back to the hobby. Fine. I agree that’s a good secondary goal, but when you think about who actually composes the makeup of the collecting populace, we have to question what is going to happen to the people who have grown to love the way it is now.

Eisner says that the biggest problem with the industry today is the confusion over products, kids going into Wal-Mart and Target, giving up because of not knowing which product to buy. Personally, that is total crap. Its pandering to a public that has a closed minded view of what the prime demographic SHOULD be, while not addressing what it has become. The reason kids don’t like cards as much anymore is because the interests of the general kid has switched from following sports to playing video games and japanese animated shows. The demographics have changed, and it has nothing to do with how many products are stocked at shop n’ save.

The fact of this industry since 1996 is that adults make up the market, not kids. Therefore to say that you are going to pull the train off the tracks and put it on a different track, screws over all the passengers on the train already. By refocusing the point of baseball card market to kids, it only makes things worse than it already is. Not only because kids shouldn’t be the focus, but also because most kids like the hobby the way it fucking is!

People, giving Topps the exclusive is not going to harken things back to 35 years ago. The hobby’s face has changed, and it is never going back. Its time to stop trying to recapture that nostalgia, because that shit don’t fly ’round here no more. The day of the kid going into the shop and buying cards is gone, mainly because kids don’t follow sports like they used to. The hobby has changed, made the thousands of people like me into collectors, and it needs to stay that way. I know that Baseball is a different animal than football, but the ideals hold true. People want to be closer to the game, and Topps Opening Day is not the way to accomplish that. Plus, when Triple Threads and Sterling are the worst products on the market, how long before the lack of competition makes everything that bad? Not long, especially when Topps has to scale back their product line to accommodate the new cost of the license.