Upper Deck kind of informally announced the other day that it “was unable to renew its football card license with NFL Properties for the 2010 NFL season.”
Clearly, I am now wading into areas where I don’t typically spend a lot of time, but I’ll risk getting struck by lightning in suggesting that I think Topps will make a return to the football-card market.
I know, I know, this doesn’t exactly qualify as radical theory: it seems far more akin to common sense, which, ironically I guess, isn’t really all that common.
But there it is anyway. Topps is presumably in a position to transition back into the football-card arena without hardly missing a beat and could, I suppose, come up with a 2010 issue even within the calendar year. Maybe they couldn’t get it out quite as early as they might have in the past – August or so – but you can’t help but think they could come pretty close.
I understand that there are plenty of unofficial disclaimers about such a return, with a lot of conventional wisdom noting Topps’ legendary hubris in dealing with players associations, but I still think there are enough countervailing pressures to offset that.
This is obviously a period when the various marketing entities of the professional leagues and their players associations are maneuvering with card manufacturers to determine what kind of brave, new world they want to create for the distribution of modern sports cards, but I think that even within that potentially tumultuous situation, there’s likely room for cooler heads to prevail.
Topps has a history of producing football cards that dates back more than 50 years. To toss away all that product equity and, dare we use the term in its non-proprietary sense, heritage, would be nutty.
A little over 40 years ago when Baseball Hall of Famer Marvin Miller (kind of an arbitrary, unofficial designation on my part) first started wrasslin’ with the Topps hierarchy about group licensing, Topps President Joel Shorin was reportedly a little dismissive of the newly minted executive director of the baseball players union. “Frankly, I don’t see your muscle,” he told Miller. History has shown that Marvin started flexing his metaphorical biceps to great effect – almost immediately.
There has been a lot of back and forth in those relationships in 40-plus years, along with the arrival of many other companies to join in the elaborate kabuki dance between licensor and licensee, and this latest saga with Topps seems to be part of that.
But even grand, overheated, ritualistic theatre has to end at some point.
I think that point is near.