By Sal Barry
March 3 was National Hockey Card Day, which has become an annual tradition for collectors in the United States and in Canada.
Sponsored by Upper Deck, National Hockey Card Day was started in 2009 in Canada and came to the United States in 2012. Hockey fans could visit a participating sports card shop and get a free pack of exclusive hockey cards.
The cards given out differ by country. The U.S. set focuses more on American players, while the Canadian set keys in on Canadian players. The cards were given out in five-card foil packs, and each set consisted of 16 total cards; the first 15 cards are found in packs, while the 16th card could only be acquired with a $10 purchase. Additionally, there were a few chase inserts.
Both the U.S. and Canadian packs had ten different Victory Black rookie cards of popular first-year players. These cards, numbered 13-22, continue the Victory Black set given away at the Fall 2017 Toronto Sport Card & Memorabilia Expo. Canadian fans also had the opportunity to pull five retro Young Guns reprint cards, while U.S. fans could find five Vegas Golden Knights cards. There were also long odds of getting an autographed card.
Retailers who spoke with Sports Collectors Digest noted that National Hockey Card Day had a positive effect on their stores. Some dealers put up posters advertising the event and emailed their customers, while others went all-out, with sales on hockey products and raffles for signed memorabilia.
“It was unbelievable,” said Jim Amerey, co-owner of West’s Sports Cards in Edmonton. “Lots of people. I can’t count them. We give away packs for three days because there’s a lot of people who can’t come on Saturday, so we do it on Sunday and Monday, too.”
“We did really well with it, but we also had some youth hockey teams come in,” said Steve Wilson, owner of Jim & Steve’s Sportscards in Waukegan, about 40 miles north of Chicago. “Some of the kids were here for the first time. And a week later, we’ve already seen some of them come back and spend some of their money, so that’s always a good sign.”
National Hockey Card Day was a hit in Las Vegas, home of the NHL’s newest team, the Vegas Golden Knights.
“Saturday was pretty insane,” said Mark Hansen, manager of Legacy Sports Cards in Las Vegas. “We ended up having over 120 people show up to come in and get their free pack. In previous years, we had maybe 10 or 15 people come in for Hockey Card Day”
Joe Daley, owner of Joe Daley Sports Cards in Winnipeg, also had an increase in traffic at his store. “It went well. Probably more people than usual, for whatever reason, but it went well.”
One reason that National Hockey Card Day may have been more successful than in past years is because of the timing. Upper Deck typically plans the promotion to coincide with two major events in the NHL: Hockey Day in Canada and Hockey Weekend Across America, which generally are on different dates. This time, Upper Deck pushed National Hockey Card Day back. It still coincided with Hockey Weekend in America, which culminated in the outdoor Stadium Series game between the Washington Capitals and the Toronto Maple Leafs on the evening of March 3.
“The reason we moved it back was that our hopes were that the weather would be better,” said Chris Carlin, senior marketing and social media manager for Upper Deck. “There were some shops that still had some tough weather, but by and large, I think that helped more people – especially in the States – get out. There were also more hockey products on the shelves, which definitely helped dealers give a better sampling of our products.”
Another reason for pushing National Hockey Card Day back was to attract hockey fans – particularly in Canada – who aren’t necessarily card collectors. Hockey Day in Canada features a full slate of games between Canadian teams all day, and non-collectors are reluctant to go out to get free hockey cards if it means missing games they want to watch.
“We were losing that causal hockey fan,” Carlin said. “Collectors are going to collect. What this program is really all about is engaging that casual fan. And they have a little more free time during the day. Not having hockey action on in the morning and afternoon helped people go out and engage.”
“It gives a good face for the industry, because you gave the customer something for free, said Dan Pollard, co-owner of Clouts N’ Chara, a shop about 60 miles west of Toronto in Kitchener, Ontario. “But it also helps us too, because customers had to spend a little to get that 16th card.”
Although National Hockey Card Day packs were given away for free to customers, the retailers still had to purchase them. In the U.S., shops had to pay $20 for a 50-pack box, while in Canada the cost was $50 for a 100-pack box. Most retailers purchased multiple boxes. All welcomed the expense.
“This promo is virtually no cost,” Wilson said. “What I like is Upper Deck advertises it well. It’s gaining momentum, because it’s been going [in the U.S.] for seven years. Every year, it seems like we get more and more people.”
“It helps that Upper Deck advertises [the promotion],” Pollard said. “We had some people, who didn’t know about us locally, find out about us online and come in.”
Upper Deck promoted National Hockey Card Day on the NHL Network, where hosts of “NHL Now” opened several packs of the cards. Upper Deck also uses social media like Facebook and Twitter to keep customers informed, while publishing full listings of participating retailers online. The advertising gained from the listing, along with the promise of getting something for nothing, brings people out of the woodwork and into a card shop on a day they might otherwise be elsewhere.
“Winnipeg is known as ‘Wholesale City’,” Daley said. “This is my hometown, so I can say that. Whenever there’s something for free, it attracts attention. The more the card companies come up with promotional material we can hand out, so people feel like they’re getting something for nothing, the more it seems to work. As far as generating sales, it helped.”
According to dealers, one of the strongest aspects of National Hockey Card Day is that dealers can buy the packs in the quantities that they want, without having to purchase additional inventory of Upper Deck products. Some dealers use these extra packs to encourage sales beyond the $10 buy-in to get the bonus card.
“Everybody who comes in gets a free pack,” Amerey said. “When they spend $10, we give them three additional packs. They spend $25, we give them five extra packs. Over three days, we probably gave away over 10,000 packs.”
Hansen used a similar strategy at his shop. “If they bought a box, we’d give them five extra packs,” he said. “We ended up giving out almost 600 packs.”
“Because of the low cost of the packs, I like this a lot better than anything Panini does, like the Father’s Day or Black Friday specials,” Wilson said. “Panini makes you buy more product to get their special packs. Well, we already have their products on our shelves, so it doesn’t benefit the dealer. That’s why Upper Deck’s National Hockey Card Day and Topps’ National Baseball Card Day are better promotions.”
Another thing that Upper Deck got right was immediately addressing the difficulty for collectors in the U.S. to get the chase cards of the Vegas Golden Knights players.
Earlier this year, Upper Deck issued a special, 15-card set of Golden Knights that was sent to retailers in Las Vegas to help stimulate interest in hockey cards. The set was well-received, so Upper Deck decided to add another five cards to the Vegas set; these cards were found in U.S. National Hockey Card Day packs – but were far and few between.
“We had a lot of people open the packs in the shop,” Hansen said. “It seems like the Golden Knights cards were found once in every 30 to 40 packs. They weren’t super-easy to find, but when people pulled one, you could see the excitement.”
Hansen expressed his concerns to Upper Deck about the difficulty of finding the Golden Knights cards in the National Hockey Card Day packs and asked if something could be done about it. In turn, Upper Deck announced that it would be producing additional quantities of the Golden Knights cards – the initial 15 cards, plus the final five cards found in National Hockey Card Day packs. All 20 cards will be available in four-card cello packs, available at Vegas-area card shops, and through authorized online retailers and group breakers.
“A lot of people in Vegas are new collectors,” Carlin said. “It’s a new market, so the last thing we want to do is alienate ourselves with the people who are just learning about collecting by having to spend $400 to put a 20-card set together. That’s not right. I don’t want people to have a false perception that there’s going to be a kajillion of these Golden Knights cards out there. There won’t. But we needed to do something to satiate the demand for these in that market in particular.”
Given the positive response by retailers, Upper Deck’s National Hockey Card Day appears to be here to stay for the time being. Non-collectors are enticed to try card collecting, kids can get cards for free, die-hard collectors are given more cards to chase after, and retailers can expect a bump in sales.
“I noticed on social media that there were a lot of people responding, mentioning that Card Day was coming,” Daley said. “It’s working, and that’s the main thing. Dealers are always saying that card companies don’t do enough for the hobby shops, but I think Upper Deck is back in tune with us, and certainly trying to make things better for us.”
“We’ve gotten customers from past National Hockey Card Days that still shop with us today,” Pollard said. “With it being an annual thing, that definitely helps. People know that it’s going to happen every single year.”
Sal Barry is a freelance contributor for Sports Collectors Digest. He can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @puckjunk.