Upper Deck and Basketball – Where Do They Go From Here?

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By Stephen Laroche | Beckett Basketball Editor

The recent announcement that Panini America was taking over as the sole and exclusive trading card licensee for the Collegiate Licensing Company has sent shockwaves throughout the hobby and immediately collectors wondered: How would this announcement impact Upper Deck?

Just before press time for the next issue of Beckett Basketball, we received a statement from Upper Deck’s Chris Carlin regarding their future plans for basketball cards.

“Upper Deck has no plans to abandon a category the company helped create. The basketball market is undoubtedly better with Upper Deck in it. The company continues to enjoy an exclusive relationship with LeBron James and Michael Jordan, which will not change as Upper Deck continues to find ways to deliver fans compelling basketball products. Upper Deck will continue to aggressively look at licensing opportunities that will allow the company to resume a leadership position in the category.”
Back in 1991-92, Upper Deck released its first NBA-licensed trading card product and it was a smash hit at the time. In the years that followed, collectors were treated to top-quality releases that offered plenty of innovation. Having Jordan as a spokesman certainly helped enhance their legitimacy with collectors. And for years, they lived up to their self-proclaimed title of the “Collector’s Choice” in the eyes of many.

All of that changed at the end of the 2009-10 season as Panini took over as the sole manufacturer of NBA-licensed cards. But even then, Upper Deck continued to compete by carving out a new niche by coming to terms with the CLC. Under this agreement, they still continued to produce some of their best-loved brands and collectors were happy to pull cards of their favorite stars in their collegiate uniforms, especially Michael Jordan, whose trading card rights they hold exclusively.

Where does this leave Upper Deck today? Collectors and dealers are wondering, especially as their final CLC-approved sets hit the shelves next month. But if history shows us anything, it’s that they will continue to compete in whatever way makes sense, and they will continue to deliver what their customers have come to expect: quality and innovation. If they take the approach of producing sets without logos – which other manufacturers have done – some may find that an appealing option as the hobby has become more welcoming of products of that nature.

No matter which direction they take, you can’t take away from what Upper Deck has accomplished in the basketball card market and Beckett Basketball will be there to provide you with any developing news.

Stephen Laroche is the editor of Beckett Basketball and Beckett Hockey magazines. Have a comment, question or idea? Send an e-mail to him at slaroche@beckett.com. Follow him on Twitter @Stephen_Laroche.

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7 comments

  1. Leo 19 February, 2015 at 14:28

    “But if history shows us anything, it’s that they will continue to compete in whatever way makes sense, and they will continue to deliver what their customers have come to expect: quality and innovation.”

    Lots of heavily airbrushed Jordan and LeBron trading cards along with basketball cards that look similar to Leaf. Thats what you will see.

  2. Mark 19 February, 2015 at 15:12

    Exclusivity is going to kill card collecting. The exclusive rights holder for basketball cannot release autographs of the two biggest icons in basketball of the last 30 years because they are exclusive elsewhere. The exclusive rights holder of the two biggest icons cannot release logo-including autograph cards of the icons. What a mess.

  3. Paul 19 February, 2015 at 16:40

    Airbrushing, reusing old designs again, cramming Jordan and Lebron autos in every pack/box/case, glad to know some things don’t change.

  4. Richard 19 February, 2015 at 19:32

    Eventually another player will enter the game.
    One of the reason why the license fees are high is that there were multiple bidders.
    Panini by itself already produces too many products. If people stop buying, the ability
    for them to pay those high fees becomes harder to justify. Eventually I see a lawsuit
    where by the players reclaim their image rights from the NCAA too.

    Eventually the price Panini is willing to pay will drop, allowing entry of some fresh blood
    or some old blood like UD/Topps to reenter. Or the market itself may simply vaporize as
    the products become too expensive a luxury to buy.

  5. David Johnson 22 February, 2015 at 14:20

    I hate all the exclusives. I wish the leagues would grant 2-3 licenses for card manufacturers and not just 1. Also, it would be even better if the leagues limited the number of products that could be produced each year under their licensing agreement. That would make things WAY better for the hobby than where we are at now.

  6. Jaskel 9 May, 2020 at 00:43

    The business had a balance between profit and pleasing collectors, right now Panini is all about making money without thinking who we are, we are the why they exist, we are collectors but it is not that funny like it used to be.

    It is contradictory, they produce cards for collectors but the hobby is killed with over production of different lines of products, it is hard, really hard, you dont even can think of completing a collection or be close to, like some of the 90s sets,

    Upper deck has to compete again, something has to happen,

    is there anyone? do you hear me.

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