By TRACY HACKLER | BECKETT MEDIA EDITORIAL DIRECTOR
While the move may have lacked the controversy and surprise of other trading card announcements in recent months, the NHL’s decision to add Panini as a second licensee beginning with the 2010-11 season was a headline-maker.
Today’s news signaled the effective end to Upper Deck’s five-year exclusive on the category and turned Panini into a three-sport manufacturer.
In this exclusive interview, Dave McCarthy, NHL Enterprises’ Vice President of Integrated Marketing, addresses, among other things, Upper Deck’s exclusivity, Panini’s potential and the 10 things that helped shape the decision.
Beckett Media: What does adding a second manufacturer say about the vibrancy or popularity of the NHL as a “trading card sport?”
Dave McCarthy: The NHL brand has tremendous momentum behind it, and all of our vital signs are good – attendance, TV ratings, web traffic to the NHL.com network, corporate sponsor appeal and, ultimately, consumer product sales. This decision will allow two companies the opportunity to put their resources to work to fully capitalize on this momentum while offering both passionate and new collectors products that appeal to them.
Beckett: How do you expect hardcore hockey collectors to react to this news?
McCarthy: We value the contributions of the hardcore NHL trading card collector, they drive the business. We now have the best of both incumbent brands that they have been collecting with the addition of new and revitalized legacy brands for them to consider.
Beckett: I know there were more than a few companies interested in getting back into hockey beginning in 2010-11. What was it about Panini that gave them the edge?
McCarthy: Panini’s innovative products, passion for collecting, acquisition of the Donruss company and associated brands and, most importantly, their commitment to engage new collectors gave them the edge.
This was a difficult decision. Fortunately for us, there were several interested parties who wanted to leverage the growing interest in the NHL players and teams. While we appreciate the interest, we felt that our decision to license two solid companies was the right one. We will continue to look for opportunities to add other collectible products to our portfolio to further engage fans and collectors, and we certainly welcome interested parties to reach out to us.
Beckett: Did you guys consider adding more than one additional licensee this time around?
McCarthy: We considered all proposals and met with each company to understand their plans and capabilities. All interested parties were considered.
In the end, we felt that a semi-exclusive model brought us the following:
1. Customer choice
2. Revival of legacy brands
3. Product innovation
4. Scalable manufacturing to satisfy the growing demands from hobby stores and retailers
5. Global distribution
6. Innovative business models
7. Multi-million-dollar marketing commitments to encourage new collectors
8. Web-based interaction to encourage collecting behaviors, especially among the younger generation
9. A controllable supply that ensures all products have a unique “reason for being”
10. A business model that forges cooperation between all parties
Beckett: How would you characterize Upper Deck’s tenure as an exclusive manufacturer?
McCarthy: Solid. They are a fully engaged business partner, built and delivered desirable products, marketed them aggressively, invested in technology to capture kids’ attention, leveraged NHL events and media. . . . As you know, there is an old saying that “all collectors are fans, but not all fans are collectors.” By tapping into the NHL resources to reach our growing fan base we’ve begun to attract more NHL fans to become collectors.
Beckett: Should consumers read into the NHL adding another manufacturer that it was somehow not satisfied with Upper Deck’s performance?
McCarthy: Not at all. The decision to grant an exclusive to Upper Deck five years ago was the right decision at the time. With the momentum I mentioned earlier, we felt it was important to add another licensee to fully capitalize on the growing interest in our young, marketable players and, in this case, two highly motivated partners are preferred.
Beckett: What does the potential of bringing back popular brands such as Pinnacle, Crown Royale, Zenith and Score mean to the category?
McCarthy: The NHL is blessed with longstanding collectors who remember the excitement of opening packs of these legacy brands. We’re excited to bring these tried and true brands back to the hobby.
— Tracy Hackler