Carlsbad-based Upper Deck has been able to succeed in a world laden with smartphones and other digital distractions
CARLSBAD — A walk through the Upper Deck headquarters shows the amount of new projects either being readied for production or researched for development.
Images of cartoon and comic characters line walls; Marvel games and Hello Kitty items fill shelves.
Framed images of some of the most iconic athletes in the world, complete with autographs hang near employees’ cubicles.
At its most basic level, Upper Deck might better be known for its sports trading cards more than anything else; though the company’s President Jason Masherah will say that the company has always been more diversified than that.
“At the end of the day, the best way to define us is as a ‘collectable company.’” Masherah said.
In February, the company celebrated its 25th anniversary.
In addition to the sports trading card division, Upper Deck is bolstered by their authenticated memorabilia and gaming and entertainment trading card divisions.
In a world laden with smartphones, iPads and other technologies, how does the company maintain its relevance?
“In trading cards,” Masherah said, “what’s nice for us is, you can’t replace an autograph or a piece of a game-used jersey digitally. Those are things that bring you closer to the athlete or the entertainer that you can’t replicate on a digital basis.”
There have been efforts to introduce technologies into the cards — in 2011, the company introduced “Evolution,” a series of video trading cards. The cards were the size of regular trading cards, though included a 60 second clip of an athlete that was shown in a small video screen.
In 1999, Upper Deck also created the “Power Deck,” cards that could be traded digitally.
“But at the end of the day, you’re still rooted in that physical element of the cards,” Masherah said.
The company even went so far to insert security holograms in their cards to help prevent counterfeiting that was once rampant in the memorabilia industry.
It’s a market still mostly male-driven, and as the company turned 25, Masherah explained that it’s Gen-X that readily identifies with Upper Deck.
“What you have seen, especially over the last few years as far as Upper Deck’s concerned, is you’re seeing a lot of people who grew up with it now sharing that hobby with their kids,” he said.
The core collector is still there, has always been there. “The hardest part,” Masherah said, “probably is bringing those people back who grew up collecting, and went off to college, found girls, found a lot of hobbies, and now that they’re adults, they’re working jobs, they have kids, bringing them back in the hobby. That’s probably the biggest challenge that we face as an industry.”
On the sports side, Upper Deck has been seeing a lot of success over the last few years with their exclusive Collegiate Licensing Company deal, signed in 2009, Masherah said. Before that, the collegiate arena was an overlooked area, he added.
“What you find is that, collectors, fans, are more passionate about their collegiate affiliations than they are with their pro affiliations in a lot of cases,” Masherah said.
“It’s been a huge, bright spot for us,” he added.
Upper Deck announced a new deal on Feb. 27 to be the exclusive manufacturer of NHL trading cards for the 2014-15 season.
With the exclusive deal in place, they’re able to try out new things and be better able to engage with collectors. Something that isn’t really available in a co-exclusive environment.
The most sought after Upper Deck card?
“It’s hard; I think you have the question of most valuable, sought out… I think for us, people still hearken back and they identify with the (Ken) Griffey Jr. rookie. I think more recently, a lot of people think about the LeBron James exquisite rookie as kind of an iconic card of the last 10 or 15 years.”
But the most recent, he said, would be the precious metal gem card featuring Michael Jordan. “That card was numbered to 10, and sold on eBay for $30,000,” Masherah said.
And no, there isn’t a safe on the Upper Deck premises that houses any of the rarest of cards. Everything that’s produced all gets circulated, Masherah added.