The Saturday New York Times included a short article in the sports section that talked about financial difficulty that Upper Deck was facing, citing what it called a large number of players who were owed money by the Carlsbad, Calif.-based card maker for autographs they had signed for insert cards.
According to the story, Evan Kaplan, the MLBPA’s director for trading cards and collectibles, sent an e-mail message to all player agents telling them of players who had not been paid for autographs and advising players not to return to Upper Deck any autographs they had signed for the company or to enter into any new agreements for signatures until the payments were made.
Ouch. Obviously, this kind of incident is simply a by-product of larger problems that Upper Deck faces, but it is a reminder about what enormous costs the card companies incur by creating these upscale cards embedded with autographs, jersey swatches and other materials that ostensibly fall under the broad definition of memorabilia.
I suspect I’d be genuinely startled to know the exact details of what it costs to produce some of the high-end card issues that both Topps and Upper Deck have produced over the years. Just the combination of expenses from acquiring the signatures, etc., and then the substantial security and unique production demands to get them duly installed in their card products must make the printing of the modern baseball cards something absolutely foreign to what it was originally.
Once the card companies decided to take the route of contrived scarcity as a means of selling their products, they opened a Pandora’s box that has dramatically altered the landscape of collecting.
Much of the upheaval we’ve seen in the industry over the past 15 years can point to that strategic shift as one of the biggest contributors to the current malaise.
Jimmy Carter may have never actually used that word, but I did.