Hobby Musings: Upper Deck meeting collector demand amid pandemic

Hobby Musings: Upper Deck meeting collector demand amid pandemic – Even with the coronavirus pandemic slowing down many things in our country, something that has held steady has been the demand for trading cards. One of the companies that has striven to meet this demand has been Upper Deck. Even with an interrupted hockey season, the company has continued to put out new products for this season. To find out more about what these uncertain times have meant the company, I had the chance to catch up with Upper Deck’s Head of Customer Experience, Chris Carlin via email.

KS: Chris, how has the coronavirus pandemic affected Upper Deck’s card and memorabilia production?

CC: I’m really happy that Upper Deck has spent the time to secure a variety of vendors in different regions as it has helped us to keep production running on track. There have been some slight delays on certain projects, but by most accounts, we’ve kept everything on track.

Hobby Musings: Upper Deck meeting collector demand amid pandemicI think one of the bigger disappointments was with regard to the recent UDA release of Monumental, a product with five signed memorabilia pieces in each box. It was the first time we were able to offer it to a mass audience outside of a trade show, and our operations team wasn’t able to produce as many boxes as we would have liked. It was an instant sell out, but the thing is that we had to maintain social distance in assembling these, and we couldn’t produce as many as we would have liked. We are excited to be able to finish the total production in the coming months and offer it again to collectors at UpperDeckStore.com.

KS: The card market has seemingly weathered the storm of it all pretty well so far. What has been your reaction to the hobby’s viability throughout the pandemic?

CC: For years manufacturers have worked at new customer acquisition to grow the hobby. When COVID-19 hit, I personally felt we were in for big trouble for the industry and that the single card market in particular would crash. What I didn’t realize was that people were spending more time at home and not spending money at concerts, movies, dinners, vacations, etc. Those working had more discretionary income than ever for their hobbies. So we have definitely seen a boom as of late that I expect will quell with a vaccine or quell in cases being reported. That said, it’s been an incredible time for the industry, and I’m so happy to see so many families embracing all that collecting offers.

KS: Upper Deck is a big presence at numerous conventions and trade shows throughout the Hobby Musings: Upper Deck meeting collector demand amid pandemicyear. Unfortunately, many of them have been postponed or cancelled because of the pandemic. Since they didn’t happen, are there any plans to use marketing budget allocated for trade shows for any additional collector focused promotions or sets?

CC: YES! We produced our wrapper redemption programs we intended to use for the Summit Show and Sport Card Expo, but with them being cancelled, we offered them to our Canadian distributors, Authorized Group Breakers and Diamond Club Members. We will still be creating the wrapper redemption sets for the National and Fall Expo and we will offer them out in a similar fashion. I like the things being done with regard to digital events and I think the Virtual Spring Sport Card Expo was a lot of fun personally, but it is really tough to replicate the fun of walking a show and drinking it all in. We are all eager to get back on planes and meet face-to-face with our fans, but that’s gonna be a ways off unfortunately.

KS: The NHL season is slated to get underway again soon, but they did recently have the lottery. Rookies are always such a big part of trading cards, who should collectors be keeping an eye out for?

CC: It’s been interesting to see how the NBA, NFL, NHL and MLB have been handling the COVID situation. It seems like the NHL is best-positioned to get back to play right now, and obviously choosing sites in Canada has helped play a role in that. No matter what, the Stanley Cup will be awarded on Canadian soil, and that obviously creates a lot of excitement with passionate Canadian fans.

The Draft Lottery was a strange one with the #1 seed NOT being awarded to any of the bottom seven teams who are not a part of the 24-team playoff. That adds an incredible wrinkle to the Stanley Cup Playoffs situation as the “losers” in the qualifying round have the chance to “win” the rights to select phenom Alexis Lafreniere in the first round. There are some VERY compelling teams in the mix for him too. What if Alexis played for his hometown Montreal Canadiens? What if he joined Connor McDavid and Leon Draisatl? Could he be the catalyst to help the Chicago Blackhawks with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane back to prominence? It will be a lot of fun to watch.

KS: Are there still plans to have your rookie showcase this year with things the way they are right now?

CC: No. It’s just not in the cards, forgive the pun. It’s just not safe to have that many people, especially professional athletes together in closed confines. We will do some things individually with this rookie class, but not something all together.

KS: Upper Deck is the exclusive home of Michael Jordan autographs and memorabilia. Always
a popular figure in the hobby, he got a new surge in popularity thanks to The Last Dance. From your end, how has the market/demand for Jordan been since the documentary?

CC: I can’t even put it in words. He was already the top living player for values on his autographs and each week the values spike like I have never seen before. How old were you when you realized the number 23 was Michael Jordan? I was 13. And I’ll never forget that 23 is Michael Jordan. There’s not a person reading this that doesn’t know MJ is 23. There is a COVID effect happening here too if you think about it. You’re working from home. You’re on video conference calls for work. And you have a blank wall behind you. Now, more than ever, people are looking to upgrade their work space. You want to put something up that represents you and the things you loved. What better way to show your love for sports and the amazing memories it has brought than with an autograph of the absolute GOAT; Michael Jordan? Prices on his collectibles have never been higher, but I feel like everyone needs to have a signed Michael Jordan item if they are a sports fan. Now I just need to convince my wife we need one in our house!

KS: Another popular figure is LeBron James. We’ve been seeing a lot of impressive sales for him, including a card at over seven figures at auction. What has been your reaction seeing to the impressive numbers for his auctions, especially the one with Goldin Auctions?

CC: With his incredible on-court play and giving heart, it’s hard not to love this guy. I think LeBron has been undervalued for years and we know how great LeBron is off the court, but the public didn’t seem to recognize this until late. What an incredible player to cheer for with what he is doing in Ohio with the iPromise School in particular. I personally know of a myriad of things he has done off the record that would make him even more beloved. Personally, I feel like it’s just time he’s getting the recognition he deserves. People didn’t like him because of “The Decision,” but those who invested in him early, are enjoying the dividends today.

KS: If you had to choose between the two, who would you say is more popular in the memorabilia world right now?

CC: Personally, for me, it’s MJ right now. I actually asked my wife if we can name our first-born son; LeBron James. She gave in a bit and we named him James William. However, watching, “The Last Dance” with my wife, we fell in love with Jordan all over again. It’s crazy you could forget how amazing he was, but clearly we did. Again, I firmly believe, if you are any type of sports collector, you need to have at least one signed Jordan piece in your collection. It’s not a status symbol as much as it is affirmation you’ve arrived as a collector and you are serious about this hobby.

KS: Does Upper Deck have any memorabilia related to either of them coming out soon?

CC: We have upcoming signings, but with COVID, they are definitely in flux right now. We look forward to bringing new items to collectors soon with the understanding how dry the market is for their signed collectibles right now.

KS: You have Goodwin Champions slated to come out in late July.  Quite possibly Upper Deck’s most eclectic card product, what are some of the highlights collectors should be looking out for with it?

CC: As a history minor in college, I love the new Historic Currency Relics. I also really like the, “Heads of State Vintage Stamps” cards. Both of these cards are something I will likely chase with my sons. The “Jordan’s Curtain Call” insert set shows some amazing moments from the last time Jordan played on the United Center Floor after playing with the Washington Wizards. To have awesome on-court imagery of Jordan again will provide a ton of chase with collectors. With new signers like Danny Trejo, Joe Burrow, Jasson Dominguez, Bianca Andreescu, Megan Rapinoe, Wander Franco, Alex Morgan and Jalen Green, Goodwin Champions is bringing the heat to this summer.

KS: Aside from Goodwin, what are some other products coming in the near future?

CC: Well the 2019-20 CHL Game-Used Edition product was a fun announcement, and it will be very popular with hockey prospectors. Next year’s class is suspected to be the best since perhaps the McDavid/Eichel class. I also am REALLY excited about the announcement on Marvel Masterpieces. David Palumbo’s artwork is show-stopping, and I can’t wait for collectors to get these amazing Marvel collectibles in hand. And other than that, the Sibling Sensations set we put together for Family Weekend will be really well received. The Jack Hughes/Quinn Hughes card is a must-have in my opinion. Don’t miss it!

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Hobby Musings: Upper Deck meeting collector demand amid pandemic
Kelsey Schroyer