By Barry Janoff
February 28, 2014: “I knew when my career was over: In 1965 my baseball card came out with no picture.” — ex-MLB player and broadcaster Bob Uecker.
Upper Deck knows the joys and challenges that come with collecting, trading and preserving trading cards. And most trading card collectors know the challenges of keeping your treasure out of the hands of your Mom, who viewed the small pieces of cardboard — many of which smelled like the bubble gum with which they were packaged — as space-takers best "donated" to the trash can.
Carlsbad,. Calif.- based Upper Deck has kicked off a year-long celebration in honor of its 25th anniversary, which includes special product, marketing, social media activations and contests intended to reward consumers with unique sports and entertainment memorabilia.
The trading card category is in need of a high-profile jump-start that the Upper Deck multi-platform might provide. Sales in the category topped $1.1 billion in 1991, but now hover around the $300 million mark, according to the most recent figures provided by industry analysts.
Major players still standing, such as Upper Deck, Panini America and Topps, have gone heavily into online and social media and bumped up their entertainment-related products in a quest to add and retain younger consumers to what remains of the pool of older and more traditional consumers.
The Upper Deck celebration comes on the heels of the brand signing a multi-year deal with the NHL and the NHL Players Assn. to become the exclusive licensed manufacturer of NHL trading cards, beginning with the 2014-15 season.
Upper Deck had been the NHL's exclusive trading card partner from 2004 through 2009-10, and is currently one of two licensed manufacturers (Panini America) through the 2013-14 season. Upper Deck has held NHL and NHLPA trading card licenses since the 1990-91 season.
Upper Deck has also signed an exclusive agreement with NHL Hall of Famer Wayne Gretzky to provide autographed memorabilia from the Upper Deck Authenticated branch of the company.
Gretzky returns to Upper Deck Authenticated for the first time since 2000, and joins a roster of exclusive Upper Deck signers that includes Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy, according to the company.
Gretzky, James, Woods and McIlroy are featured in a spot in which they send their own special congratulations to Upper Deck. "Reaching 25 years is a great accomplishment and hopefully there will be many more years to come," says McIlroy in the "Happy Birthday" spot.
"Our standard in 2014, as it has been every year since 1989, is to maintain Upper Deck's position as the industry leader by continuing the tradition of quality craftsmanship, authenticity and innovation," Jason Masherah, president for Upper Deck (pictured above), said in a statement. "We are proud of the extensive portfolio we've created over the last 25 years, and we're excited to let fans know that we have several significant announcements planned over the course of the entire year."
Among the activations planned to celebrate its silver anniversary, Upper Deck said that the first "licensed football rookie cards of the year will debut in 2014 Upper Deck Football," scheduled to drop April 16. The 200-card set will feature randomly inserted autograph cards from such soon-to-be NFL players as Johnny Manziel, Teddy Bridgewater, Michael Sam, Blake Bortles, Derek Carr, Ka’Deem Carey and Sammy Watkins.
Leaf Trading Cards, based out of Carrollton, Texas, is hitting the public now with 2014 Leaf Draft Metal Football Set, which also contains autographed cards that include Manziel, Bridgewater, Bortles and Watkins, as well as Jadeveon Clowney.
This summer, Upper Deck will unveil a 250-card, 25thanniversary multi-sport set, "utilizing a design similar to its inaugural 1989 baseball card set."
The 25th edition of Upper Deck Series One Hockey will be released in the fall.
A dedicated 25th anniversary micro-site and a series of social media contests and promotions will target consumers and fans. A "Happy Birthday Upper Deck" contest running now through March 28 enables people to create videos of themselves singing "Happy Birthday" to Upper Deck. One fan chosen for creating the best birthday tribute will receive a $2,500 credit at the Upper Deck Store. (Details here.)
A separate contest running through March directs people to offer birthday wishes to Upper Deck via Twitter or Facebook for the opportunity to receive limited-edition T-shirts along with packs of assorted trading cards from the company.
Five of the randomly selected winning entries will also receive a "signed piece of memorabilia or card product valued at $250." (Details here.)
In the entertainment category, Upper Deck said it would use its 25th anniversary platform to expand its gaming business via new versions of the "Legendary Deck Building Game." That will include a new Marvel release and a 20th Century Fox licensed "Alien Encounters" release this August.
"We're proud of the extensive portfolio we've created over the last 25 years, and we're excited to let fans know we have significant announcements planned."
In addition, Upper Deck is bringing back its Marvel Masterpieces trading card set, to be comprised solely of original art by renowned artist Joe Jusko.
Other activations will be tied to trade shows such as the National Sports Collectors Convention and GenCon this summer.
Beyond that? According to Masherah, "Upper Deck will continue to provide fans with the most innovative, highest quality cards and collectables available in the market."
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