Upper Deck renews hockey trading card license

Upper Deck was granted a licensing extension with both the National Hockey League and the NHL Players’ Association on Thursday (press release here)

This is surprising, given Upper Deck’s recent legal troubles. First, they were sued by Konami for making counterfeit Yu-Gi-Oh trading cards. Upper Deck settled out of court on January 10 of this year. In early March, Upper Deck settled out of court with Major League Baseball after being sued for copyright infringement.

Then again, Upper Deck–through their exclusive licensing arrangement–has grown the hockey card hobby within the past 5 years. You can find hockey cards in Wal-Mart and other chain stores, and rookie cards–though sometimes hard-as-hell to find–do retain their value for the most part.

And though the company does a lot of things that piss off hockey card collectors (short prints, sticker autographs, and such), they do for the most part make great products.

Has any company innovated sports card collecting as much as Upper Deck over the past 20 years? Upper Deck has vastly improved sports trading cards, including better photography, better printing and that little hologram on the back to thwart counterfeiting (ironic, huh?)

Still, part of me would have liked to see what would happen if another company was given the license, like In The Game or Topps. ITG could go back to making “real” hockey cards, and Topps could go back to making “real” O-Pee-Chee sets.

Meanwhile, Upper Deck is copping a smug attitude on their blog, acting as if a shared exclusive with Panini won’t hurt their business. Here are some of the more quote-worthy bits–along with my commentary:

But this time around we’ll be sharing the stage with Panini America, maker (for the most part) of collectible stickers.

“Maker…of collectible stickers”? Sounds a bit condescending, as if stickers are not real collectible items. Upper Deck glosses over the fact that Panini owns Donruss, which has been making sports cards since 1981. Plus, Panini owns the Score, Leaf and Pinnacle brand names. Those, along with Donruss, all have some degree of equity with hockey card collectors.

In fact, due to some of our grassroots campaigns to grow the hockey card market, the powers-that-be at the league offices figured it was time to open things up to allow for two hockey card manufacturers since the audience continues to grow.

Or maybe the “powers that be” saw Upper Deck lose millions of dollars in two out-of-court settlements and decided to not put all their money on one pony.

Will opening things up to include more than one licensed hockey card manufacturer be the best move for collectors? We’ll all have to take a wait-and-see approach, but Upper Deck is comfortable with the arrangement.

Do we really believe that UD is comfortable with going from the only game in town to having to actually compete for our hobby dollars?

Are we nervous about the competition? Not in the least. In fact, we say: “Bring it on.”

This sounds cocky. Cocky, but believable. Upper Deck should be nervous about having to TRY for the first time in 5 years. But when UD does try, they usually succeed.

Final thought: One company having exclusive rights to make NHL trading cards is bad. At least with two companies, they’ll try to one-up each other–and the collectors will come out on top.


Author: Sal Barry

Sal Barry is the editor and webmaster of Puck Junk. He is a freelance hockey writer, college professor and terrible hockey player. Follow him on Twitter @puckjunk

4 thoughts on “Upper Deck renews hockey trading card license”

  1. Just as long as they don't try to out-gimmick each other, I welcome two brands in the NHL card market.

    Like I said in a previous comment, I just hope Panini does a bit more with hockey in terms of quality than it did with hoops.

    Please, no sticker autos!

  2. If Panini junks it up like they did with the base basketball set, forget it. I would like to see the Leaf sets or the Pinnacle brand come back. Maybe even the Donruss Elite or Canadian Ice sets.

  3. I'd say that Panini America could well surprise us since they probably has taken over the knowledge Donruss had.

  4. Agreed. I like the Panini sticker sets, and thought Donruss did a pretty decent job with cards in the 1990s, so they Panini / Donruss definitely has potential.

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