While it came as a shock to nobody who pays attention to the sports
card business, Upper Deck released its 2009 Signature Stars Baseball
and Ultimate Collection Baseball products this week and the questions
concerning the sets are only outnumbered by the carefully selected
images used within them.
One of the first questions I had after
taking a look at the unauthorized product was why is the set designated
2009 when it’s released in 2010? My next question is why did Upper Deck
go to the pain-staking lengths of picking
player photos where the team name is covered and didn’t bother to take
the next step and blur or air-brush out the logos on the helmets and
The five-card packs (Stars and Signatures) come with a disclaimer of “NOT
authorized by Major League Baseball or its Member Teams” peppered
throughout the cards, packs and boxes. I guess that’s UD’s way of
letting us know they don’t have an exclusive license because a quick look at the
cards would have many begging to differ. In the past when licensing
issues permitted manufacturers from using MLB logos, the common
practice was to blur the logos to make them
indistinguisable or air-brush them out altogether. Signature Stars
went as far as to make sure each player pose used has the team name or
nickname covered on the front of the player’s jerseys, but as you can
see in the image displayed, they didn’t use the available technology to
hide the team logos featured on helmets of jerseys. The cards also only
display the team name (eg. Atlanta/Pitcher on card displayed at right)
with no mention of the team nicknames displayed anywhere on any of the
Why would UD only go halfway to ensure they stayed within
the limitations you ask? Won’t that force Topps, MLB or both to seek
legal action against them? Well, if the MLB’s statement regarding UD’s
Signature Stars and Ultimate Collection products is any indication, the
litigation wheels are already in motion.
“We are surprised and disappointed that Upper Deck, a former partner of
ours, would violate our contract by clearly using our intellectual
property without our permission. “We will vigorously use all legal means to protect the intellectual property of Major League Baseball and its member Clubs,” said the statement issued by Matt Bourne MLB’s Vice President of Business Public Relations.
curious choice made by Upper Deck was why not do the typical
promotional effort in leading up to the release date? In fact, if you
go to the UD website today, other than a brief listing with the release
date for Ultimate Collection being Jan. 26, there is no mention of
its new Signature Stars set at all and images from neither product are displayed.
Coincidence, not bloody likely.
Obviously the folks at Upper
Deck were well aware that the two sets would be highly scrutinized and
likely challenged in the courtroom somewhere down the road. But by
designing the cards in the way they did, could UD have perhaps found a
legal loophole that would challenge the exclusive agreement and somehow render Topps’ exclusive with MLB null and void and ultimately continue to produce baseball cards without ponying up the huge dollars it takes to land an exclusive?
Got a “no comment” from the folks at Topps regarding the issue and UD said the same. My guess is that the latest firestorm between the two card companies will likely continue to build momentum and will not be extinguished until millions dollars have been burned up in the courtroom. I’m also guessing that the millions of dollars it will take to try and get the exclusive contract voided and the likely subsequent backlash from the collecting public is viewed by the UD folks as a worthwhile battle. And let’s not forget the old theory that any publicity is good publicity and the chance of these products eventually being ordered fro the store shelves could lead to a collecting frenzy and suddenly UD’s rule violation suddenly looks like a small piece of a well-crafted plan. Because if that’s not the case and UD doesn’t have a legal loophole up it’s sleeve, it appears they’re setting themselves for a huge, costly battle they have very little chance of winning.
Not sure how this will all play out but one thing is for certain: it’s deja vu all over again in the card-making business. Game on.