Longtime collectors will no doubt remember the 1991-92 Pro Set cards of Pat Falloon and Scott Niedermayer that were inserted into packs of 1991-92 Pro Set Hockey Series One, only to be pulled early on in production for reasons unknown. This caused the value of these two cards to soar during the early 1990s, becoming the stuff of legend, before eventually becoming the stuff of dollar bins. But what many collectors do not realize is that these two cards sparked a change in the hockey card industry.
So what happened here? Did these cards disappear because they violated an agreement with the NHL, with the NHL Players’ Association or with Falloon and Niedermayer — or all of the above?
Before we delve into all of that, a little backstory is important. The 1991-92 Pro Set Hockey Series One set was released in summer of 1991; probably late July or early August. I distinctly recall purchasing the entire 345-card set for $15 at a card show held at my local shopping mall that summer. So packs would have been available around then.
Randomly inserted into packs of Series One were four different “Collectible Card” inserts:
CC1 – 1991 Entry Draft
CC2 – The Mask
CC3 – Pat Falloon
CC4 – Scott Niedermayer
Pro Set would have wanted to include Eric Lindros, who was drafted first overall that June by the Quebec Nordiques. But due to an exclusive deal that Lindros signed with Score, no other company could include him in a set of trading cards until he had skated in an NHL game — and Lindros had no intentions of playing for Quebec that fall.
So Pro Set did the next best thing, and quietly put cards of Falloon and Niedermayer, selected second and third overall respectively, in the four-card insert set. Both players are pictured from the 1991 NHL Entry Draft.
Then the cards disappeared. It wasn’t too difficult to find CC1 and CC2 in packs of Pro Set Hockey Series One, but CC3 and CC4 were scarce. The October 1991 issue of Beckett Hockey Monthly listed the Falloon card valued between $20 and $35, while the Niedermayer card was valued between $18 and $30.
In that same issue, writer Dave Nessell explained why the two cards are difficult to find:
Pro Set released the cards prior to signing a contract with the players. A bidding war between the card companies raised the signing price of these two top picks out of Pro Set’s desired pay range. Thus, the cardmaker decided to pull the two cards from production (Beckett Hockey Monthly, October 1991, page 60).
That explanation of a “bidding war between the card companies” soon turned out to be incorrect, but today, some collectors still mistakenly believe that was the cause.
Three months later, Beckett Hockey Monthly shed more light on the mystery of these two controversial cards in its January 1992 issue:
Both the Falloon and the Niedermayer cards can be found in early releases of this season’s foil packs. According to many reports, most of the early runs were found in the northern United States, because of Pro Set’s shipping patterns.
Even though they are considered single prints, the cards sometimes can be found in quantity, which explains why their values have decreased.
These two cards, because they were unauthorized and pulled from distribution, have stirred up quite a bit of confusion and controversy, which we would like to clear up (Beckett Hockey Monthly, January 1992, page 60).
The magazine then reprinted a statement from Pro Set:
Authorization from both the NHL Properties and the NHL Players Association for the inclusion of non-NHL player cards in NHL card product is under review. No card company may, at this time, include non-NHL players in product until a final policy is determined.
The Falloon and Niedermayer cards were inserted as special collectibles in cases shipped to both Canada and with-in [sic] the United States. There are no distinguishing marks on the case, counter box or pack to indicate whether the product was packaged before or after these special collectibles were no longer packaged (Beckett Hockey Monthly, January 1992, page 60).
Finally, the magazine printed an excerpt of a letter from Newport Sports Management, which represented both Falloon and Niedermayer:
Pro Set produced these cards without ever contacting either player or our firm in relation to obtaining written authority to produce these cards. Pro set simply produced these cards in a brazen and arrogant fashion without heed to the rights of each individual player…
In addition…there was never a bidding war between any card companies which raised the signing price of these top two draft picks out of Pro Set’s desired pay range (Beckett Hockey Monthly, January 1992, page 60).
Even though there was no bidding war, without question money had everything to do with Newport Sports Management’s demand to remove its two clients from Pro Set Hockey Series One packs. Both Falloon and Niedermayer were paid to appear in four different draft pick sets that were released later during the 1991-92 season, so of course the two players and their agency wanted payment from Pro Set.
More significant, though, is Pro Set’s statement that the NHL and the NHLPA were determining if and how non-NHL players could appear in a set of NHL trading cards. That, as well as the final truth on the conflict between Pro Set and Newport Sports Management, was explained in the December 1992 issue of Beckett Hockey Monthly in an article by Sherry Ross:
Because neither player had played an NHL game prior to Pro Set’s release date, they weren’t members of the NHL Players’ Association. Thus, if any licensed cardmaker wanted to include either player in its set, it would have to strike a deal with the individual players. Pro Set produced and distributed the cards without coming to such an agreement with either player.
Newport Sports Management, which represents both players, immediately threatened litigation and demanded Pro Set pull the cards from production. With no legal alternative, Pro Set removed the cards.
The incident forced the NHLPA to take a stand on the inclusion of non-members (draft picks) in league licensed sets. The organization ruled that non-members could not appear in licensed sets. Players must play in a regular season game to earn that status.
One loophole does exist, however. Cardmakers can sign contracts with individual teams or organizations and include the players (non-NHLPA members) in their sets (Beckett Hockey Monthly, December 1992, pages 17-18).
This explains why companies like Upper Deck and Score were able to include players from the World Junior Championships, professional Russian teams, the IIHF World Championships, the Canadian Women’s Hockey Team, and so forth in its hockey card sets throughout the 1990s.
But why couldn’t Pro Set and Newport Sports Management work out a deal? Perhaps the agency demanded too much money, knowing that taking the cards out of circulation would be a bigger hassle than writing a couple of checks. Yet, Pro Set chose the former.
Neither of these cards are in high demand today. Both of these insert cards can be readily found on COMC and Ebay — or in dollar bins if you look hard enough. The Falloon card sells for between $1 to $2. Not surprisingly, the Niedermayer card is in higher demand, and can sell for up to $5. Both are a far cry from their values in late 1991; then again, so is almost every card from the 1990s. Still, $5 for an old Pro Set card is pretty good money.
Really, what makes these cards so worthwhile is what they represent. The 1991-92 Pro Set “Collectible Card” inserts of Pat Falloon and Scott Niedermayer were the catalyst for the NHL and the NHLPA to develop a policy on who could and could not be in its card sets. These two cards may not sell for much today, but their significance should not be overlooked. ■
Follow Sal Barry on Twitter @PuckJunk.