By the Staff of NYSportsJournalism.com
December 17, 2014: In 1989, premium card company Upper Deck, a rookie in the industry, made then MLB rookie Ken Griffey Jr. card No. 1 in its first set.
Industry analysts regard that card as being a game-changer. It not only helped to jump-start Griffey Jr.'s public persona in a career that eventually encompassed 22 seasons, 630 home runs, 13 All-Star Games and eligibility into the Hall of Fame in 2016, but was in the leadoff position for a 600-card MLB set that put Upper Deck on the map.
In 2014, Carlsbad, Calif.-based Upper Deck launched a year-long celebration in honor of its 25th anniversary, which has included special product, multi-media marketing, social media activations and contests intended to reward consumers with unique sports and entertainment memorabilia.
The company has exclusive contracts with Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Wayne Gretzky. In February, the NHL and NHL Players’ Assn. signed a multi-year pact that made Upper Deck the exclusive licensed manufacturer of NHL Trading Cards, beginning with the 2014-15 season. That reprises a role that Upper Deck held from 2004-10.
In September, Upper Deck signed deals with the American Hockey League and the Professional Hockey Players’ Assn. to become the league’s exclusive official and nationally distributed trading card licensee, which includes trading card games, posters, stickers and figurines.
That same month, Upper Deck inked an exclusive, multi-year agreement with the Canadian Football League and the Canadian Football League Players’ Assn. to become the CFL’s first official trading card partner.
In October, Upper Deck signed an exclusive trading card agreement with Euroleague Basketball, which develops and organizes elite competitions, And in November, a multi-year was unveiled naming Upper Deck as the exclusive provider of trading cards for Notre Dame’s array of athletics programs. That will lead to product featuring such alumni as Joe Montana, Tim Brown, Jerome Bettis, Brady Quinn, Paul Hornung, Joe Theismann and Lou Holtz.
Upper Deck's offerings go beyond star athletes and entertainment icons.
Heroic Inspirations cards honor people whose physical challenges have helped to inspire others.
Among them, Mandi Schwartz, a former player with the Yale hockey team who died of cancer in 2011, was honored with a card to help with the foundation her family founded in her name. A card for Jack Hoffman, a nine--year-old boy who is fan of the University of Nebraska football team and who has been battling brain cancer, is raising awareness for the Team Jack Foundation. And an Heroic Inspirations card featuring Jaclyn Murphy, a young lacrosse player who has fought cancer, was issued to help support the Friends of Jaclyn Foundation.
In September, Upper Deck had Josh Harding, a goaltender in the Minnesota Wild organization who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in November 2012, autograph 25 of his Heroic Inspirations cards and add the inscription, "My inspiration is my father."
These were inserted into packs of the 2014-15 NHL O-Pee-Chee series. A number of other signed cards were made available with a donation to his Harding's Hope, a non-profit group raising awareness for and funds to fight MS. Harding, who was awarded the 2012-2013 Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy for his perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey, is on the roster of the AHL's Iowa Wild this season even as he continues his battle.
"There was no social media 25 years ago. Now, as part of our 25th anniversary, we're doing outreach, giveaways, contests through our Facebook page, our Twitter page and our blog," Jason Masherah, President for Upper Deck, said during a Q&A with NYSportsJournalism earlier this year. "It also allows us to engage and do some things directly with the fans. And it enables the consumers to engage us directly regarding our product offering and content.
"I would like to see the hobby continue to be passed along to the next generation," said Masherah. "We take pride in the fact that this is a healthy hobby, a healthy pastime. It is a way for parents to spend time with their kids. We see that as a big opportunity for growth and I hope that we can still say that in 25 years."
Q&A: On The 25th Anniversary Of Upper Deck, It's Still In Cards We Trust
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