Let's review the facts first. Upper Deck, in early June, announced that the MLB Players Association granted them a license to produce baseball cards. This will mean that UD will have access to all 1,200 players on all 30 teams 40-man rosters for 2010 (it was never stated how long this agreement would last, whether it is a one-year contract or four-years was not specified). However, on Wednesday, Major League Baseball announced that they have awarded the Topps Company the exclusive license to produce their baseball cards in 2010. This would mean that MLB (and most likely MLB Properties) is allowing Topps...AND ONLY TOPPS...to produce baseball cards of their athletes in the trademarked uniforms and logos of Major League Baseball.
There are two different factions here folks, one is MLB (and thus MLB Properties) and the MLB Players Association. Topps relies on signing the individual player to a contract to appear on trading cards, so while it never really needed the PA to cooperate, Topps and the union have had good standing with each other. Upper Deck, however, was never allowed this same opportunity, thus having to sign with the Players Association via a blanket agreement, thus allowing them (UD) access to everybody who signed on with the PA. This is why when Barry Bonds opted out of the PA agreement (and all things that came with it), Topps was able to sign him, while UD, (and Donruss, and Fleer) could not.
Now what does this all mean? It means that in 2010, Topps and Upper Deck are licensed to create baseball cards. That's right, people. Let's say this together:
However, while both companies can use images of all the players they choose, only Topps will get to use the trademarked logos and uniforms of the 30 clubs, while Upper Deck will not. And that is the big difference.
Now, we've seen MLBPA approved cards look like without the MLB Properties' approval (ie. 80's-90's Post Cereal, or Tombstone Pizza, or other food products) and you will see your favorite player on a card with his team's logos airbrushed off the picture, to look like said hero is playing for a generic team. Sure, you'll see the name of the city he plays for, or maybe even the team name, but never together, and certainly without the consent of MLB. However, there will be a big logo from the Players' Association, somewhere on the bottom of the back of the card. And for people who collect the base sets for UD will see just that. However, remember that UD's products focus more on the insert cards, the jersey cards, the autograph cards, the patch cards, the "logoman" cards, and so forth, not so much the base cards that come with them. Who's to say that they won't be able to take pictures of the players without their caps on, and focus just on headshots for these kinds of cards? And for those who appreciate UD's award winning photography, you can imagine one of two bizzare scenarios:
- UD will be allowed one day to have all 30 teams wear uniforms (in spring training only...this won't stand during the season) that have the Upper Deck name and logos on them. And UD can get all the game action shots (albeit via intersquad games or maybe an actual spring training game) with every player wearing UD caps and jerseys (thus creating game used cards with UD patches)
- Upper Deck will "photoshop" the logos off every card and replace them with the UD diamond and Upper Deck lettering.
Now, on to Topps. We've seen stories where some clubs are actually using Topps designs to announce the starting lineups outside the stadium (I know the Nationals do this), or when the home team comes to bat, they show said player on that year's Topps design (the Brewers do this). So, already, Topps has had the cooperation of MLB. Topps products have been seen in every big league souvenier stand (those now popular 14-15 card team sets). Heck, in 1989, the first time I ever went to Wrigley Field, my grandmother bought me a team set of 1989 Topps Cubs cards. I was hooked. The name Topps alone means "baseball cards," even to people outside of the hobby. The name Topps is synonymous with baseball, and it has been for almost 60 years now. They've been a player in this Hobby longer than any other aspect of this Hobby other than the game itself. It will be a sad day if ever the day comes that Topps is no longer licensed by MLB and not allowed to produced licensed baseball cards.
The speculation that Topps is going to be complacent because there is no "competition" is unjustified and absurd to say the least. Name me one product, one hobby, one company, that struggled because it had no competition pushing them to be better? Seriously. And before you even say that Topps needed competition to improve, think about this, the first products of 1981 Donruss and Fleer were so inferior in comparison to the product that Topps didn't even worry about their sales. Can you picture right now what a 1981 Donruss card looks like? How about a 1981 Fleer? I'll bet you can picture a 1981 Topps card faster than the other two combined. We were already nine years into market sharing when UD made its debut. By that time, Score already introduced color pictures and backs. What did UD have that the others didn't? A hologram to deter counterfeiters. In 1989, holography was still a new technology that nobody ever thought would be applied to fight fraud in the Hobby. That was UD's innovation. And if you read "Card Sharks," you know how well that little program worked. But UD's holograms, $1.00 pack price, and their claim to be a premium card sparked the other companies to follow suit. And Topps, whether it was due to loss of sales, or increases of sales from the other companies, eventually followed suit, creating cards that wow many of us today. Topps will still have that competition. Just as we all know that UD has the "exclusive" deal with the NHL, we know that companies like "In the Game" keeps them on their toes. The same thing will happen here. Topps has the "exclusive," but UD will still keep them busy to stay ahead. It could very well be business as usual for UD and their products might continue to "wow" people. It is just a matter of preference if you want your cards with the MLB logos on them or not.
People on message boards I frequent claim that Topps products are lax in design, dull, boring, rehashed, uninspired, unprofessional looking, I can keep on going. The same things can be said with other manufacturer's products. I compare it to shopping for clothes at a department store. Many of us have been through this where we walk into a store, find a shirt that in our minds are so ugly, so dull, just ridiculous looking that in our opinion nobody in their right mind would want to buy it and it's a waste of rack space. Do you want to know the reason why that ugly shirt was made in the first place? Because the next person to come across it will probably think that it's the greatest looking shirt EVER and it will look good on them. That's why. Because somebody will buy it. It may not be you, but somebody else. Just because some collectors have stated that they will no longer buy UD cards because they won't have the MLB logos on them, doesn't mean that there won't be others who will.
The press release said that Topps wants to cater to youth. As well as they should. Many of us who've collected started when we were young, that's the target. But when we were young, you only had the one company, or maybe even three, or if born and raise in the 90's, five companies and sets to work with. In 2001, there were more than 81 different products produced by four companies. And soon, they would all come with the autos, relics, patches, that we have grown to expect in every product, from the lowest of low end to the highest of high end. Kids today want to experience that "hit," that rare insert card. They are not going to be satisfied with a box of commons the way we used to be. Proudcts nowadays have to be tailored to the target market (that would be us adults 25-54) as well as get the average kid's attention. Both companies have spent the money, and have done terrific jobs of catering to "youth" thanks to their ToppsTown and UDKids initiaives and websites. But more has to be done, especially with the "low end products" so that it will give kids good reason to buy the stuff in the first place and feel justified into doing so. Nothing looks as a bad as a kid with buyer's remorse.
Because they are getting the full support of Major League Baseball, Topps will create baseball cards going forward. To me, that is the most important thing in this whole deal. Topps will create baseball cards in 2010 and beyond!!! What does that mean to me (and countless other set collectors? It means that I get to continue collecting new baseball cards. It means that my the number of consecutive Topps sets that I own gets to add another year. It means that as I get a year older, I can add another year of Topps cards to my collection. It means that my continuous run of complete sets gets another year added to them. And while I know it is no small feat to claim to have a full set of Donruss cards (from 1981-2005, even the 1999 and 2000 retro sets) or Fleer (1981-2005), or even Score sets (1988-1998), knowing that I can, and will, keep going with Topps was all I cared about.
Nothing has been indicated as of yet as to the number of products MLB (or the PA) is allowing either company to produce. Will there be a reduction of sets now that there is only "one" company in the market? How about the Rookie Card rule? Is that still in play in 2010 or will that be scrapped? Will UD be allowed to use the Rookie Card logo if it still is applied?
So, what is my opinion of this whole mess? I'm happy that Topps will continue in 2010. I'm happy to hear that I will get to collect 2010 Topps cards in the future. I'm sorry to see "UD" take the fall and no longer get the "exclusive" license, but at least they still get to produce baseball cards so they'll be around. Enough of all talk about how bad this is going to be in the future. That's all speculation until the sell sheets come out. We can only wait and see.
In the mean time, I still have 15 more team sets to add to my binders, five more SP's to look for to complete my MLB shortprints set, one cheap 2009 Topps A & G set to find on the Bay, and then I'll have more to brag about. Time to get to work.