Saturday, August 24, 2013

What I Learned and Didn't Learn About Upper Deck

I was not actively collecting when the drama surrounding Upper Deck unfolded in 2009, so all I know about what happened has been gleaned from passing comments of fellow bloggers and some old archived news articles I’ve found online. 

I recently started putting together a post for the Griffeys of 2010 Upper Deck, a set you can’t talk about without getting into the whirlwind of shit that surrounded it.  Not long after I began typing did I realize that I had enough material for a whole other post regarding Upper Deck’s fall from grace, and a potential outlet for figuring out what exactly happened.  Here it is, cut and pasted directly from the Griffey card post:

Upper Deck was dealing with a lot in 2010.  Simply put, they had lost their license to put MLB logos on cards as a result of Topps getting an exclusive deal, and now they were being sued by MLB for continuing to use the same trademarked logos and images they had been using for 20 years.  Following this, everyone from distributors to players to video game and anime companies to sporting bodies was getting litigious; and from what I’ve read such treatment was not undeserved.

After reading all the articles I could find online (which wasn’t as many as I would like), I found I had more questions than answers.

These guys were told they couldn’t use the logos, but in 2010 they went ahead and did it anyway.  Were they rebelling?  Were they taking a stand against an unfair exclusivity deal that cut everybody but their biggest competitor out of the market?  

To me it looks like MLB just went for the throat in an effort to kill the brand outright.  Did Topps put up enough money to win an exclusivity deal fair and square or were UD’s questionable business practices what caused MLB to pull the license?  Someone with the inside scoop, please fill me in because all the news articles I come across are dry and objective.  I want a collector’s perspective.  

It looks like UD is still very active with memorabilia products, popular football and hockey card sets, and a bunch of other non-sport products.  They continue to release new stuff, and it also looks like they had a substantial presence at the National this year.  Did anybody go check out their setup? 

Part of collecting baseball cards is that at some point you will be insanely jealous of a small child.

The company had two additional lawsuits in March of 2012.  Are those lawsuits settled and paid?  What about the lawsuits and the settlements from 2010?

Following the settlement with MLB in 2010, Upper deck Sports Brand Director Jason Masherah made this statement: “As a company, we are changing the direction of Upper Deck’s baseball products going forward. We are looking forward to creating fresh and innovative set content that will continue to get collectors excited.”

“Changing,” “going forward,” “continue.”  What happened to this?  Even the late cardboard legend Richard McWilliam alluded to imminent innovation that has never come to pass.  Where are the new baseball cards?  

Do you think UD and MLB will ever kiss and make up?  If UD released an unlicensed baseball set for 2014 a la Panini, would you buy it?  What if they got a license?  Would you support the competition?  I would….

Before you go: in my online research, I also found where Upper Deck’s physical offices are located.  I can’t help find stuff like this interesting as I believe we tend to think of these companies as faceless abstracts, and yet here they are.

Upper Deck has had two offices in Carlsbad, CA.  One is a gigantic manufacturing facility with loading docks and a well-appointed lobby.  It appears that they no longer operate at this location as it is currently for lease.


If there were to be a factory tour or a Willy Wonka-esque golden ticket situation, this is the kind of facility where I imagine it being held. 

Their current location is a much simpler office building that Upper Deck shares with two other companies, one that makes automated genetic testing devices and another that specializes in bacteria detection.  The modest concrete structure sits in a giant maze of commercial buildings between the Mercedes-Benz Research and Development office and the main runway of McClellan-Palomar Airport.


This location is listed as their primary business address in both their LLC and Corporation filings with the California Secretary of State.

1 comment:

  1. Oh geeze, what a can of worms this is. From what I recall, the announcement of Topps' exclusive contract hit the hobby like a ton of bricks, and I don't think many collectors were too happy with it. Fleer and Donruss were squeezed out in 2005, and the further reduction in the market had collectors concerned (and I think the last few years of releases show that was generally justified). The reasons why they lost their contract were up for debate - some believed it was simply a case of Topps paying big money for the exclusive contract, while others thought it may have had something to do with UD pissing off MLB properties with years of rumored back door deals and unpaid royalties.

    UD either secured or retained (I can't recall which) their MLBPA license, allowing them to the MLB players, but not logos. Legally, Upper Deck maintained that while they could not display full logos, partially obscured logos didn't infringe on the copyright. If you look at the cards in the set, all either feature players turned to the side, from behind, or otherwise obscuring the full logo or team name.

    From the get-go it was clear there was going to be a legal battle, and the product was pretty tough to find (at least in my area). MLB sued, and eventually the settlement included stopping production on a second series and shelving the remaining Series 1 product.

    I don't think there has ever been any final legal resolution on the use of partially obscured, yet trademarked, logos. UD was in on shaky financial ground at the time of the release, and I don't know whether we will fully know whether the settlement was due to their legal claim or the cost of going to court. It was the beginning of a pretty rapid decline for UD, and I think the debate and legal battles over the product from the start have impacted the way some collectors look at the current day Pannini logo-less releases.