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Upper Deck expands into high-end auction market

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The sports memorabilia auction industry that already boasts more than 25 companies got a lot bigger with the addition of just one more — Upper Deck. The longtime card and memorabilia maker announced it is venturing into sports memorabilia auctions, with two major auctions per year planned, the first in the spring of 2006.

What is perhaps most interesting about the business model is that Upper Deck plans to not only auction athlete experiences (meet and greets, etc.), high-end signed items from Upper Deck Authenticated, and original artwork from its archives, but it also plans to bring in consignments and utilize third-party authentication companies just like the typical sports auction companies.

“Upper Deck Auctions will be a full-service sports memorabilia auction house,” said Mike Phillips, hobby veteran and current senior hobby sales manager for Upper Deck who’s been charged with launching this initiative. “It will offer an interesting and significant mix of current stars, unique Upper Deck pieces and vintage items. With our businesses, we have a lot of different types of customers. We want these auctions to be a relevant and exciting experience for everybody we work with.

“So in addition to items like one-of-a-kind experiences and unique one-of-a-kind pieces from UDA utilizing our spokespeople, our goal is to attract some of the high-profile items that are currently propelling the sports memorabilia auction industry to the heights it is at now. That part of the industry is growing at the most rapid rate in our industry. And auctions, in general, have become an important part of everyday life in almost every industry.”

Phillips said Upper Deck expects to be successful in getting quality consignments from the hobby for a variety of reasons, most notably brand name recognition and its daily interaction with the industry. In addition, there are plans to incorporate hobby dealers as a conduit for publicity and consignments. Another avenue the company can explore are the athletes and their collections because of Upper Deck’s everyday interaction with players and agents.

“Those relationships will be leveraged and we’ll have access to items that is unparalleled,” Phillips said. “The plan is for Upper Deck Auctions to utilize our existing strategic partnerships with the leagues, agents, licensing groups and our key spokespeople. Potentially, collectors will be able to bid on one-of-a-kind experiences with our key sports spokespeople, rare entertainment pieces and vintage sports memorabilia.”

Phillips said everything about Upper Deck Auctions will be first rate, including its auction catalog. “We entered the trading card business in 1989 and changed the way cards are made,” he said. “We’ll be doing the same thing in sports memorabilia auctions. Based on the nature of everything we do, even the auction catalog will have elements of collectibility. It will be full-color, top of the line and perhaps will include a surprise or two.”

Upper Deck’s reputation for authenticity is impeccable, and the company doesn’t want to put that at risk, so its consignments will be put through the strictest of tests.

“We’re very proud of our authentication process,” Phillips said, referring to Upper Deck’s patented five-step process. “Obviously it will be used on anything UDA incorporates into the auction. For the consignment items, we’ll be incorporating the top third-party authenticators.” Phillips said Upper Deck is in the recruitment stage for authenticators.

The new division will be staffing up through both intra-company transfers and new hires. “We are in the midst of seeking out and assembling a staff of industry experts, who will among many things, help us attract a multitude of top-tier consignment items for collectors to bid on,” Phillips said.

The new division’s Web site ( will be online in a few weeks; for now, it will use Those interested in consigning can send an e-mail to

The sports memorabilia auction business is at or near saturation, but Upper Deck brings abilities to the table that virtually no other company can. In fact, the company could actually bring in new collectors into the category.

“The sports memorabilia auction business is one sector in our industry that continues to show tremendous growth year in and year out,” said Richard McWilliam, founder and chairman of Upper Deck. “Many collectors want to own a unique piece of sports and entertainment history. With the tremendous reach of our brand name, plus the relationships that we have with our business partners, we are better suited than most companies to deliver these rare pieces to collectors.”

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