Why Tim Hortons hockey cards are a big deal

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By Ryan Cracknell | Hobby Editor | Commentary

We often lament the loss of bubble gum and sports cards. But what about cereal, Twinkees, hamburgers and fries?

Once upon a time, collectors were enticed to indulge in foods we might not normally eat or hit the drive thru a couple of times a week all in the name of sports cards. For decades, premiums and food issues were a regular thing, even if they didn’t stick with a particular brand for long.

But over the last 15 to 20 years, these sorts of sets have largely disappeared. You see the occasional blip on the radar but few that are major.

Until now.

Tim Hortons hockey cards are a big deal — even if you don’t live in Canada. Even if you don’t collect hockey cards.

Here’s why.

Exposure

The most obvious reason why the 2015-16 Upper Deck Tim Hortons Hockey set is so important is exposure. Every day, Canadian Tim Hortons restaurants are packed. The drive thrus are lined up most hours of the day and night. And for a few weeks, those people are going to see signs, commercials and more dedicated to hockey cards.

These people don’t have to search out cards. They’re right in front of them.

Visits to hobby shops are normally a deliberate choice planned out in advance. If we’re lucky, we stumble across one in our travels.

Retail outlets increasingly have their trading cards pushed off to a side or corner. Even when these are in a prominent spot, they can be missed in a rush to get out of the store.

If something’s out of sight, it’s often out of mind. Now here’s a window where the exposure is going to be massive. Some are likely to buy their first packs of cards in years. Others are going to follow-up a pack purchase with a search for a local shop or online dealer to finish their set.

And at a dollar a pack (or $1.99 without the qualifying purchase), the price is likely low enough to entice parents and family members to grab some for their kids. That has the potential to plant the seed for a lifelong collector.

Big Mac Flashbacks

Many are going to connect the Tim Hortons-Upper Deck promotion to the similar McDonald’s sets from the past. At their biggest in the early to mid 1990s, these brought hockey cards to the Canadian masses. Upper Deck started things out, although Pinnacle and Pacific also took the reigns at certain points.

McDonald’s hockey card sets saw many gorge on French Fries for a few weeks in their quests for sets, holograms and other inserts. The promotion became a tradition for both serious and casual collectors. Some restaurants went to even greater lengths, organizing trade nights and helping people knock needs off their lists.

It’s not McDonald’s this time around, but there will be a nostalgic connection for some. And with the nostalgia, some could find their way reentering the hobby after an extended layoff.

Possible Test for Other Sports and Markets

Even though this particular promotion is limited to Canadian restaurants, other manufacturers and leagues would be wise to see how it does. If it catches on, one would think that there would be increased odds of similar food-issue sets popping up in the future. Success here means success for both Upper Deck and Tim Hortons.

Other restaurants may want to get in on the action for baseball, football and basketball. Trading cards for movies and TV shows have also been done before and could again.

2015-16 Upper Deck Tim Hortons Hockey is about more than just double-doubles and the hunt for Sidney Crosby. It has the potential to be a benchmark release in how the modern hobby can potentially reach a bigger audience. And with that bigger audience, we can better gauge at what level people still get excited about sports cards.

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Ryan Cracknell

A collector for much of his life, Ryan focuses primarily on building sets, Montreal Expos and interesting cards. He's also got one of the most comprehensive collections of John Jaha cards in existence (not that there are a lot of them). Got a question, story idea or want to get in touch? You can reach him by email and through Twitter @tradercracks.

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9 comments

  1. David D 29 September, 2015 at 15:43

    Great article, Ryan. I remember well the Game Day football cards at McDonalds. I hope that cards return to these outlets again!

  2. David Johnson 29 September, 2015 at 16:54

    I remember the Game Day McDonalds cards as well, as I was a kid and we went on a cross-country trip that summer and everytime we stopped and there was a McDonalds around I convinced my parents to let me go in and check if they had any of the cards, since the sets were released regionally. I got a bunch of different ones that way, which was the only way of getting them before eBay and other websites made it easier to find regionally released items.

  3. Ken 30 September, 2015 at 10:23

    Growing up in New York in the 70’s I remember going to Burger King with by brother and getting Topps Baseball cards of the Yankees in 1978 and 1979. It was so much fun to get the cards and put the sets together. Especially since a few of the cards had different pictures from the regular Topps set. Glad to see that Tim Hortons is doing this.

  4. william 4 October, 2015 at 00:08

    i remember when the chip bags had little skybox cards i had the complete set didnt eat all the chips though

  5. David Brown 17 October, 2015 at 13:29

    This is a nice product but how it opens the doors for the future of colleting is what is important here. Now that the cards are in Timmys the logiical next step is to amalgamate the cards with the menu and more importantly the roll up the rim game. What collector wouldn’t like to get a free meal or meal item in his pack of cards that he can redeem right away. The opportunity for companies to get behind this marketing stratagy is enormous.

  6. Brian joyce 2 October, 2016 at 13:35

    I was just given a box of 100 packages of the 2015-16 Tim Hortons hockey cards. Are they worth anything? I opened 3 packs but stopped myself from opening the rest. What to do?

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