Hobby Outposts from the North – Large Coffee and Cards, Please! – While 2020 has cancelled a lot of plans in the hobby, Upper Deck is moving forward with one of their popular promotions north of the border – the annual Tim Hortons hockey card series.
After much speculation, word leaked in trading groups on Facebook earlier this week that the staple would be returning for another year. Yep, Canadians will once again be able to order their double doubles with a side of hashbrowns and Sidney Crosby. Though an official release date has yet to be revealed, collectors will be keeping their eyes glued to their TVs for commercials to start airing that will officially declare open season on these restaurant premiums.
The Tim Hortons sets started in 2015-16, taking over space that had been left vacant after McDonald’s Canada ended their hockey card program. The revival was a big hit with collectors out of the gate, particularly for parents and kids who would stop at the famed coffee-and-donut chain on early weekend mornings to fill their mugs before heading to the hockey rink for practice.
The restaurant premiums that Upper Deck does, of course, aren’t new, but they are a dying breed. Go back to the 1991-92 season when the Carlsbad, CA-based company first produced a hockey card set with McD’s and you’ll see that it wasn’t a solo effort.
Probably the most famous program in the United States was the annual Denny’s baseball set. Issued at first by Upper Deck and later by Pinnacle, these sets were not only cool to get with your Grand Slam breakfast, but they were truly innovative. For one reason or another, both companies trotted out their best technologies in these sets. Upper Deck, for its part, created hologram cards, while Pinnacle later on had their motion capture Laserview cards. The latter, if you’ve never seen them, had a couple seconds of game play built into a tilt card.
Denny’s wasn’t the only restaurant to jump into the craze. Domino’s Pizza, in 1989, partnered with the then very young Upper Deck to produce a Quarterback Challenge set. The cards really served as the first foray for UD into the football card market and spotlighted a variety of ballslingers past and present.
Also jumping in from the pizza companies was Little Caesars. Now this isn’t a surprise when you consider that Detroit’s Illitch family not only owned the hot-n-ready chain, but also the Detroit Red Wings. The result was a series of annual sets featuring Steve Yzerman and co. This wasn’t their only effort, however, as they also teamed with the now defunct World Championship Wrestling for a lenticular card set in 1999, promoted with an admittedly lame commercial:
McD’s, however, did not pioneer the concept, as Topps was working with Burger King for several years. This agreement started in the late 1970s for a set focused on the New York Yankees. No, this didn’t lead to a Calzone being offered by BK, but it did yield some beautiful cards. Later on, the checklist was expanded and a nationwide program ran.
Not to be left out, Hardee’s produced several sets over the years. The most eye-catching, by far, are the 1988 Conlon cards, which preceded the larger Conlon Collection cards issued in the early 1990s. In 1992, the chain teamed up with Score to produce a series of mini discs.
Wendy’s, on the other hand, was pretty sparse in their work, but they did team up with a company known as World Holographics for a very cool Roberto Clemente card. They also produced a card, alongside Topps, of founder Dave Thomas to promote their new agreement with the NHL in 1998.
This, of course, only scratches the surface of what has been produced over the years, but the unfortunate bottom line is that these programs are virtually non-existent today and are sorely missed. Could we see a resurgence now, however, with another boom period for the hobby, combined with lackluster traffic due to Covid-19? It sounds like a match made in consumer heaven to me.