by Rich Klein
While I was online early Sunday morning, I saw a story on USA Today’s “The Big Lead” about Richard McWilliam and the history of Upper Deck. While much of the story was familiar to many of us in the hobby, there were some interesting details. McWilliam, by many accounts, was not an easy guy to work for, wasn’t shy about firing people and didn’t know much about sports but he had an enormous impact on the industry.
One of the most fascinating things about Upper Deck’s arrival back in the late 1980’s was their timing. Within three years of being created they had licenses in all four major sports and were already associated with many of the leading athletes of the day. If you think about those relationships, that may have been the most brilliant part of the early Upper Deck years. The deals they worked with all of those future Hall of Famers, especially Michael Jordan, transformed Upper Deck into a company where many people believed in their authenticity. After all, if the Jordan autographs are real, then all the other autographs the company produces are real as well, right? And isn’t confidence the most important characteristic (other than the hope of that big “hit”) for any collector to consider while opening packs or boxes?
Then about 20 years after the company’s creation came what I believe (I have no facts on this other than some of what I read) was the near death experience for Upper Deck. When player agents tell their clients not to sign items because they are worried about getting paid, that is never a good sign. Other low lights which occurred around that time was the loss of their MLB license along with a cash settlement to MLB early in 2010 and settling a lawsuit with Konami Entertainment over its creation of non-approved Yu-Gi-Oh! trading cards. Upper Deck agreed to pay Konami an unknown amount of cash. I don’t know about you, but to me that had to be the nadir of Upper Deck’s existence. Those well-publicized troubles would also cause the company to lose its league-issued basketball and football licenses around that time. Nothing says trouble like going down to one major professional sports license (NHL) and some other smaller entities.
For Upper Deck’s (and the hobby’s) sake it does appear they have turned the corner from that low point to where the MLB Players Association, at least, has welcomed them back as a partner. Now, we’re all waiting for the first big set to be released but having the license is the first major step back. The MLBPA must have assumed UD’s books are back in order and with Richard McWilliam no longer there on a daily basis, perhaps the MLBPA figured all could be good again. And remember, when Upper Deck creates their first new product, it has to be player based as no logos, game-used relics or other similar protected items can be used. Now if the MLBPA has turned around, could the NFLPA be ready for another dance with Upper Deck?
The good news for the Big Lead story with Upper Deck is that it’s about the past—not the present and doesn’t represent anything that would put a pall over their National Sports Collectors Convention presence. In a lot of cases, any publicity is good publicity when you’re in bounce-back mode and the story certainly qualifies.
A couple of days ago, I received an email from the folks who run DallasCardShow.com saying the August show had been canceled and new locations were being scouted. The email did mention the Craig Ranch location would only be used 1-2 times per year going forward. Now, I don’t know about you, but such an email causes more questions then answers especially when both the Facebook page (which apparently is not even tended to any more) and the web site provide no details. I think in such situations, you have to get out in front and provide dealers and collectors with as many details as possible– and explanations. If you are going to send out important emails, make sure your other information is up to date as well.
Plus, why switch locations during a year at all? All you are going to do is confuse your patrons. Hobbyists like consistency in knowing where they are going. Again, if a big 50-75 table show (yes nowadays in Dallas-Fort Worth that would be a huge show), then you can certainly use a different location. But if you are going to use varying venues, then set up a regular rotation at each area.
In the hobby’s ‘boom’ days, we had promoters using different locations, My old friend Gary Sipos, who still runs shows in Garfield, New Jersey, ran shows as well in Clifton and Elmwood Park and although all three locations were about 10 minutes apart in many cases different collectors attended. This was especially true for the Clifton show. But with the hobby consolidation and Gary not wanting to spend every weekend traveling to North Jersey, now he is down to the Garfield show.
I hope the new issues can be worked out for the sake of collectors in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. I know I have done very well this year setting up at the show and my customers got to know me, knew I’d be there every time and knew how I would treat them. I hope any adjustments are easy and convenient for all concerned.
One of my friends called me the other night after reading a recent column I wrote about the show and passing by the location on his bike. We were on the same page about how to improve the show, bring in local players and basically turn a small show into a powerhouse. Sadly, I don’t know if the corner can ever be turned again but I’m hopeful for a good new location beginning in September.
Rich Klein can be reached at [email protected]