Can Ultimate Hold Up Without the NFL?

Upper Deck posted a first look at 2010 Ultimate football on their facebook page, the first higher end set they will release without the aid of an NFL license. Like Ultimate last year, the product looks to feature quite a few hard signed cards, as well as a few surprises. Over the last few years, UD has built Ultimate into an autograph hunter’s dream set with more inscriptions than you can shake a stick at, and from the looks of it, that will continue this year too. The question is, will collectors embrace a set like this when their favorite rookies and veteran players are pictured in their college uniforms instead of their NFL ones?

My stance on Upper Deck has always been that they deliver the most visually appealing cards in the game. Its the sole reason I never hesitate to buy into their product lines. No matter what set they put out, the cards always look great, and for 2010 Ultimate, that has not changed. The cards look amazing, especially the rookie signature cards and the shout out signature cards. Although not all of the cards were in the right format, once I inverted the color schemes on the messed up photos, even they looked great. Its actually scary to me how far ahead of Panini and Topps they are in terms of design appeal, and it continues to prove that a company can have a seat at the table, even without an NFL license.

Like many collectors, I will probably sit this one out because of a lack of NFL jerseys, but for those people who dont care, this product will not fall short in delivering some of the best looking cards of the year.

A Quick Comment On Upper Deck’s New President

Over the last few days, Upper Deck took a very bold step towards a good direction by making Paul Meyer the new president of the company. From what I have heard, Meyer has a very good reputation within the circles that matter, and I hope that it will lead to less problems that have plagued the company over the last year.

Although it hasnt fixed all the problems, reputation was a huge one that could be helped by this new addition. Obviously we will have to wait and see what happens over the next few months to really get a good picture of Meyer’s strategy with bringing Upper Deck back to the forefront of the hobby. If you look back at where they used to be at the beginning of 2009 versus their current state now, its like looking at two different companies. Although it looks like they are getting back on their horse, they are not out of the shit quite yet.
I dont think its any secret that I am a fan of Upper Deck’s more than any of the other companies due to the quality of their products, designs and concepts, so I am glad that they are heading in the right direction. Ill be waiting with baited breath to see how things work out.

Filling Holes Left By Upper Deck’s NFL License

Up until this year, it was rare to lose a company in a sport, either by choice or by force. This past year, it has happened twice in football, with one company luckily getting another shot at making football cards. Upper Deck, obviously wasnt so lucky with the ability to produce licensed NFL cards, and we have yet to see how their NCAA products turn out. With that in mind, there are some spots that Panini and Topps will be looking to fill (hopefully effectively), and that is what I want to go over here.

Exquisite – Upper Deck has already confirmed that Exquisite is out for 2010, and personally I think it was the right call because of the situation. Most people would expect National Treasures to fill the void left by the industry’s best high end product, but Im not so sure it will actually happen. Last year’s National Treasures set was terrible, looking more like a 400 dollar box of Donruss Threads than a box of high end goodness. That will not be able to happen this year, and it looks like Panini is already taking steps to better the product by adding on card signatures for some of the big chase cards. It still looks as if the rest of the product will be stickers, something that is completely unacceptable, so Im not sure how far their efforts will take them.
SP Authentic – SPA was the premiere product for Football cards, and has been since its inception. Collectors eagerly await the release of this product every year because of its consistent great designs and amazing box content for about 100 bucks. This year, the SPA we know and love will be revamped for the NCAA exclusive, and I am still confident that it can live up to expectations. However, that wont stop Topps and Panini from gunning for it. Topps Platinum was supposed to be the answer in 2009, however it failed to even come close to delivering. The same was said about Topps Unique, but it was anything but Unique with boring designs and terrible content. At this point Leaf Limited is the only product that could possibly live up to SPA, but it will take a huge improvement and a huge push towards the concepts that made SPA so popular. Im not sure if they will be able to make that jump.
Ultimate Collection – I loved Ultimate Collection this year, and I dont think it will be making a comeback for 2010. I think that this particular segment of the product calendar will be left behind, though Triple Threads may take a shot at it. Obviously, you all know my feelings on what I think is one of the worst product ever created, so I dont really need to elaborate on that. Ultimate could come back with a focus on bringing more inscriptions and stuff to compensate for the lack of logos, but im not sure it would be enough to get some of the collectors to buy into the new format.
SPX – I actually think that the NCAA license fits SPX more than any other product in UD’s early product line. SPX has always been about rookies and getting deep into the draft class, and this is the perfect opportunity to exploit that. The price point would need to come down, but there is a definite possibility of making this a banner product for the early calendar. Obviously Topps is taking notice of the lack of good products in the early part of the year with the release of Platinum in September, so I would think that UD should do the same with getting SPX out as quickly as possible.
Flagship Upper Deck – Topps has had this part of the calendar since the early 60’s so I dont think that a lack of Upper Deck low end is going to be missed all that much. Topps’ flagship product is looking so ridiculous at this point, that Im not sure Panini will even be able to compete at all. Elite will be featuring a Rookie Premiere Signature set for the first time, but it is one subset in a complete product filled with headshots of college players due to a lack of an ability to display college jerseys.
Honestly, if you asked me a few months ago if Upper Deck would be able to compete without a license, I would have said you were nuts. But because of the holes their phenomenal products leave behind, its not as big of a gap anymore.

Another Day With The Attendees of the 2010 NFL Rookie Premiere

Today was the second time I had a chance to interact with the attendees of the 2010 Rookie Premiere, and though it wasnt as epic as Friday night, today was still a very fun time. I arrived at Santa Monica High School around 11:45 and made my way over to the event. Panini was set up there with a booth next to the merch tent from NFLPA, as well as a DJ from 102.7 KIIS FM. The music from the field was already blaring, so I couldnt really see the point of an extra place for music, but whatever. They also had Coffee Bean stuff there for sale, but they looked bored without anyone coming to buy.

Panini handed out packs of 2009 Prestige, which came in very handy in the later parts of the event. They were also handing out mammoth posters that featured all the rookie cards from 2010 Prestige, though I was kind of disappointed they didnt have current packs to open for the rookies at the event.
There were a ton of fans lining the entry way looking to get autographs, and as the event participants rolled in, they signed for just about everyone. The people I recognized immediately were Brandon Routh, who played Superman in the latest film, Bill Bellamy of MTV fame, and one of the Sklar brothers who had a show on ESPN Classic as well as some well known stand up comedy stuff.
I walked around a little before making my way up to Media/VIP check in, but there really wasnt much happening on the actual grounds of the event until things got going. NFLPA had set up huge video screens and decorated everything to the nines, so that was cool too. As I walked into the tent where all the event personnel were hanging out, I could see that once again, the NFLPA didnt mistreat its people.

Just like on Friday, the spread was impressive, this time featuring sandwiches from a great local deli, sweets from a local restaurant, salads and steak sandwiches from Morton’s steakhouse, among other stuff. No one was really there when the event started, so I grabbed some food and waited to see if any of the card people were going to come. Much to my dismay, none of them were able to make it to the event, except for a few people I had met on Friday night from Upper Deck. I later found out that some of them had some very unfortunate circumstances at the hotel involving cars and towing. It was really too bad they couldnt be there.
A few of the rookies that were still in town showed up around 12:30 in a big group, and I used the opportunity to fill out my collection of autographs from the guys I didnt have. The first person I talked to was Eric Decker, a Broncos wide receiver who walked in wearing his new jersey. He was an alum of the University of Minnesota, and a VERY nice guy, so we chatted about our common heritage and Minnesota connection. He was happy to sign a card for me, which was great, considering how few people were actually there.
CJ Spiller walked in next, with Dexter McCluster, Damian Williams, and Demaryius Thomas in tow. Ben Tate, Golden Tate, and Toby Gerhart walked in next, followed by Mardy Gilyard and Arrelious Benn. I didnt have either of the Tates, and both were happy to sign for me. Everyone who was there started taking pictures with them, and reporters from the school newspaper interviewed a few of them. That would have been an awesome experience to have as a high schooler, thats for sure.
I noticed Eric Dickerson sitting at a table waiting for his game to start, so I walked over and chatted to him about life after football. He lives very close to me in the valley here in LA, and was a very nice guy all around. I didnt realize how cool his signature looked until he was finished signing, and it was one that I was glad to have.
TJ Houshmanzadeh was also there, and here is where it was handy to have a never ending supply of Panini cards for him to sign. Everyone there had his 2009 Prestige card and he signed about 4 of them before I got a chance. He was also a class act, but laughed when his card featured him as a Bengal.
I had CJ Spiller sign a football I brought with me, and he was much more friendly about it than on Friday night. he gave me a full sig with a personalization, and I could not be happier about it. Maurice Jones Drew was also milling about, but he was extremely busy filming stuff for the NFL network. Lucky I got him previously, because I didnt see an opportunity this time around.
Because I was wearing my Vikings shirt, Toby Gerhart came up and said “Go Vikes!” before getting in line to get some lunch. I got in line behind him, and asked him how yesterday went. He said he had a blast, and it was really cool to see all his cards that were being made. He loved the first opportunity to get dressed in full garb, and said he was glad he got to attend. He was wearing a Topps hat, something I didnt expect.
All in all, this weekend was a tremendous experience, and I am glad I got to be a part of it before I left Los Angeles for good. This rookie class, with few exceptions, were a bunch of amazing guys, and I hope that somewhere in the ranks there is a few NFL Superstars in the making. Because of my interactions with them, I have acquired a few new targets for next year, and thankfully there are going to be some awesome cards. Upper Deck, Panini, and Topps did a great job putting this event together, as always, and hopefully in the future I can make it back for another one.