MLBPA grants Upper Deck a baseball card license

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By Chris Olds | Beckett Baseball Editor

Upper Deck is back in the baseball card business with a license from the MLB Players Association.

The company announced its plans to return to the field on Monday with 2013 Fleer Retro baseball — a high-end product with a selection of remade memorable inserts from its Fleer portfolio.

This puts the company, which lost its MLB Properties license in 2010, back into the baseball fold more firmly with three products set to arrive in the coming months.

It’s unclear when Upper Deck and the MLBPA may have severed ties, but in 2010 the PA publicly advised its players to stop signing for the company, which had not made due payments. Last year, while MLB Properties was seeking unmade settlement payments stemming from its trademark infringement lawsuit, the MLBPA approved a licensing agreement for  2012 SP Signature Edition.

Now, with all of its books apparently in order, the MLBPA is allowing Upper Deck to proceed making union-approved cardboard. That allows it to use current players (non-prospects) in bulk in its products, but not with MLB-owned logos and names on the cards. (Panini America was granted the same license in September 2011.)

“We’re thrilled,” said Upper Deck’s Chris Carlin of the news. “We have been trying to delicately figure out how we wanted to re-introduce ourselves into the baseball market. Working with the MLBPA is a great way to do that.”

According to the company, Retro will include nods to past favorites such as  Metal Championship, Ultra Stars, Flair Hot Gloves and E-X A Cut Above for starters. It will be the first product to arrive this year. Two of the new releases will be MLBPA-approved, while the third will showcase only retired players, which doesn’t need union licensing. That will be Sweet Spot Classic.

Carlin also mentioned that Upper Deck has one licensing advantage over all of its competitors.

“We’re positioned in a way like no one else with collegiate license and product as well,” he said. “We’re looking to leverage the power of the collegiate license and incorporate that into some of our baseball releases.”

Like Panini, Upper Deck’s licensing limitations with MLB will force some different approaches with photography and design. Carlin addressed that.

“[We’re] doing a lot of photo shoots with the actual players that are playing today,” he said. “Trying to get some unique imagery. Images are going to be important to what fans see. We want to make sure we are doing something that is meaningful for fans.”

Carlin said the company is intending to fill the void left when it exited the MLB landscape in 2010.

“If there is one thing that is abundantly clear is that collectors really miss our brands in the baseball market,” he said. “We are not going to flood the baseball market with our products in the baseball ream. There is definitely a niche for them, there is a demand for them. We are going to do everything we can to provide the best value in the baseball market collectors can get.”

Beckett Editor Susan Lulgjuraj contributed to this report.

Chris Olds is the editor of Beckett Baseball magazine. Have a comment, question or idea? Send an email to him at Follow him on Twitter by clicking here.

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  1. Micah 18 March, 2013 at 17:55

    Agree with Paul, although if any company has a chance i could see a very nice college based prospect set from UD Similar to how they do with football.

    The already have a NCAA license, I would love to see a 200-300 prospect set with all the classic UD variations. not the topps 17 different variations for the same card.

  2. Tom W 18 March, 2013 at 19:08

    Seriously so more of what we as collectors already have.
    Just give Panini Upper Deck and Topps the liscence in whole and let the consumers decide who is best by our Dollars.
    Nobody like the efforst to disguise the players or team logos collectors want the whole package.
    I had hopes someobody else might crack the Topps hold on baseball but I guess I’ll keep waiting.
    thanks Susan
    Tom w

  3. David lajoie 18 March, 2013 at 19:58

    There was no void left in 2010. That set was awful. They need the MLB license. Good luck with new garbage

  4. Matthew 18 March, 2013 at 20:30

    Hopefully, Upper Deck learned from its mistake in 2010 and will put out a set that uses in action game photos and properly airbrushes out logos. This helps to take out some of the sting of the new exclusive agreement Topps has with MLB, but only a little. I’m planning on writing a letter to MLB deriding them for their decision — fat lot of good it will do, but it will at least make me feel better.

  5. Robert Braxton 18 March, 2013 at 20:37

    Paul’s right. No MLB license, it don’t matter.

    I love Fleer and throwback cards, both, but I can’t imagine it making me a buyer without the MLB license.

  6. Frank 18 March, 2013 at 21:11

    I run a store, and we haven’t stocked any of the MLBPA licensed Panini product, and have yet to have a collector even ask us about it. If people ask, I’ll stock it, otherwise, not interested. On the other hand, Topps, with the MLB license flies off the shelf when new product is introduced.

  7. bill 18 March, 2013 at 21:58

    No TEAM LOGO so it just going to be junk as always for $200 a pack. All your going to get is a redemption of some no name collage player that will never play in the Majors. Then you have to wait 2 years for them to send it. (I have been waiting over a year and talking to them on 1 redemption but they will not send it, but you can buy the same card on ebay). Upper Deck just needs to be out of the way and let people that knows how to make cards make them. Any one that buy Upper Deck must like to lose money.

  8. Chris 19 March, 2013 at 02:44

    You own a store and no one has asked you about NT Baseball? That is amazing considering it is one of the hottest baseball products out right now.

  9. PATRICK 19 March, 2013 at 10:32

    I’m sure it’s just another product that Upper Deck will rip off their customers with. That is all this company has done for the last 4 years. Hopefully they will close their doors after another cheap product people will hopefully ignore.

  10. PATRICK 19 March, 2013 at 10:35

    Wow, moderation to post a comment? What’s wrong, don’t want people to tell the truth about a horrible company?

  11. chrisolds 19 March, 2013 at 11:33

    There are two licenses:

    — MLB Properties for the rights to use team names and logos.

    — MLBPA for the rights to show all active MLB players in the union.

    Topps has both and Properties is theirs only through 2020.

    Upper Deck now has MLBPA, but that’s it.

  12. Phil 19 March, 2013 at 14:12

    i’m not sure I agree that an MLB deal is essential. Some of my favourite products of the last few years have been Panini.

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