Mar 4, 2010

Upper Deck Got Left in the Bleachers

I've already offered my opinion on what an exclusive license would mean for collectors when the Topps license was initially announced. If you're so inclined, you can reprise those thoughts here and here.

In short, I think the short-term effect will be positive and not dampen the collectors' love of collecting nor the fun of sets that are on the marketplace. We always have choices as collectors, and its our role to petition the companies with our voices or wallets to show them what we like or don't like.

However, these three passages were chilling in how blunt the settlement was for Upper Deck.

– Upper Deck agreed it will not make any new sets of cards using MLB logos, uniforms, trade dress, or Club color combinations.

– Upper Deck also agreed it will not airbrush, alter or block MLB marks in future products.

– Upper Deck must receive approval from MLB for the use of baseball jerseys, pants, jackets, caps, helmets or catcher’s equipment in future products featuring players

The first statement, though expected in a licensing settlement/agreement such as this, has one innocuous feature that will stifle Upper Deck's card-making abilities more than generally thought, in my opinion. The fact that they can't use club color combinations with the player photos. Even if they wanted to do a portrait style or painting style set, this severely limits in what settings players can be depicted. Without that clause, Upper Deck still could use a plain black hat for a Yankee or a plain red hat for a Phillie. Now, it seems they can not.

The second statement, really throws any future card creation operation to the destruction wolves. No airbrushing, no glorious logoless uniforms, no altered shots of players. This means that even players from the past can't get the stylized treatment.

The third statement pretty much rules out the use of relic and auto inserts.

Upper Deck, instead of biding its time for a few years and receiving some perspective on the market in a Topps-dominated world, decided to release products that obviously did not fall under their MLBPA license. Their argument as a "fair use" arrangement was a pretty specious one, especially since not many people would regard trading cards as journalistic in nature. Instead, they could have released a few well-done unlicensed products each year (actually obscuring logos and not mentioning team names, using color combinations only) to keep collector's interested in their products. The trend of exclusivity can probably end in the near future and then Upper Deck would have an upper hand on Topps because they would not have been subjected to typical collector ennui with year to year offerings.

It's too bad it had to end this way. In the long-term, the knowledgeable collector will not get everything they desire.

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