By Bert Lehman
Almost 30 years ago Upper Deck upped the ante in the sports card industry when it released its first baseball card product in 1989. The release featured baseball cards on a different type of paper stock than collectors were used to. Each card also contained an anti-counterfeit hologram. Collectors were not disappointed.
Upper Deck has once again entered unknown territory with the release of its Grandeur Hockey Coin Collection. The coin collection will feature a checklist of 20 players, 18 NHL stars as well as Hockey Hall of Famers Wayne Gretzky and Patrick Roy, who are exclusive spokesmen for Upper Deck.
“For us it was important to have 20 of the best players to make sure that when the consumer buys the pack for $100 that they feel they’re getting $100 worth of value and that the players are all stars,” said Jason Masherah, president of Upper Deck.
With the planning and the release of the Grandeur Hockey Coin Collection, Masherah said Upper Deck used its experience in the sports card industry to develop the final product.
“If you look at our coins they are very high-end,” he said. “We applied a lot of the same concepts that we did to trading cards back in 1989. Each of the coin finishes is a higher-end finish. We applied our trademark anti-counterfeit hologram to the coins. Everything is serial numbered.”
Upper Deck is also using another concept from the sports card industry – blind packaging. Collectors will not know what coin they will receive when they purchase a pack or box of coins.
“What is so unique about what we did is we applied the blind pack model to the coins,” Masherah said. “Traditionally, if you are a coin collector and you want a rarer coin or you want a special edition coin, you just have to pay more. Here, we’re allowing the collector to have a shot at those rare issuances through the blind pack model that trading card collectors are very familiar with.”
Masherah said the target market for the hockey coins is both sports collectors and coin collectors.
To help draw in coin collectors, Upper Deck struck a deal with Cook Islands.
“The silver coins are $5, and the gold coins are $20,” Masherah said. “For some coin collectors it’s a very important feature to have a coin that has a monetary value versus just having a standard collectible coin.”
He added that there is also a group of consumers who invest in precious metals, whether it is silver, gold, or platinum, who could potentially be attracted to the hockey coins.
With a checklist of 20 of the best hockey players, Masherah said sports collectors should also be attracted to the hockey coins.
Masherah added that the blind packaging concept could potentially attract other consumers, such as a consumer who hasn’t purchased trading cards in awhile.
In addition to Gretzky and Roy, the 18 remaining hockey players featured on the coins include: Patrice Bergeron (Boston), Dustin Byfuglien (Winnipeg), Sidney Crosby (Pittsburgh), Jack Eichel (Buffalo), Jaromir Jagr (Florida), Patrick Kane (Chicago), Dylan Larkin (Detroit), Henrik Lundqvist (New York), Erik Karlsson (Ottawa), Connor McDavid (Edmonton), Sean Monahan (Calgary), William Nylander (Toronto), Alex Ovechkin (Washington), Carey Price (Montreal), Daniel Sedin (Vancouver), Vladimir Tarasenko (St. Louis), John Tavares (Brooklyn) and Jonathan Toews (Chicago).
The collection includes 1 oz. 99.99 percent pure silver coins available in three finishes and rarities; colored, numbered to 5,000; high-relief silver, numbered to 1,000; and silver frosted, numbered to 500, per player. There is also a more rare ¼ oz. 99.99 percent gold minted coin, numbered to 100, for each player.
The coins can be purchased individually in a sealed blind pack for $100 or as a collector box with four randomly inserted coins for $499. The collector box includes one of the three rarer coins and comes with a display that holds up to 20 coins.
Masherah said Upper Deck considers the price point to be in the “middle or lower high-end.”
“We’re seeing lots of other licensed coins in the $100 to $130 price point. That’s for a direct sale,” he said. “Here, for $100 you’re guaranteed essentially $100 worth of value, similar to other coin releases, but you also have access to limited edition coins. So, for $100 you could potentially get a gold coin. And those gold coins go for significantly higher if you look at some of the individual sales that are out there. You actually have the ability to really get a good return on your purchase versus some of the other purchases on the market.”
As a company on the outside looking in at the collectible coin industry, Masherah said Upper Deck saw coin collectors being charged more for different variations of coins.
“If there are short printed versions, if there are different versions like our gold version, they are typically distributed at a higher cost if the consumer is allowed to buy them at all,” Masherah said. “A lot of times those special versions of the coins are never available to Joe Consumer.”
Masherah said the blind packaging of the hockey coins will give all collectors an equal chance at purchasing a rare coin.
“For us, the ability to deliver all the versions randomly to the consumer was a better consumer experience, at least from our point of view and what we do with the trading card side of the business.”
The Grandeur Hockey Coins are available for purchase through Upper Deck e-Pack, as well as all Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC) banking centers in Canada and via CIBC.com/UpperDeck.
Masherah said distributing the coins via Upper Deck e-Pack is unique for the coin industry.
“Our Upper Deck e-Pack platform will allow people to essentially buy coins and the packs of coins at any time, any place, and then allow them to trade, not only for other coins, but to be able to trade them for trading cards and other collectibles on our platform, which is very unique,” Masherah said. “If you do get a coin of a player you aren’t interested in, you’ll have the opportunity to trade with other people on the system and find those coins you are looking for, which is very, very cool and very unique.”
Upper Deck e-Pack was launched last year. It allows collectors to open physical packs virtually. Collectors then choose which cards or coins to have physically sent to them.Otherwise Upper Deck will warehouse the cards or coins.
The official launch of the Grandeur Hockey Coin Collection took place at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, April 4.
Masherah said Upper Deck plans to release collectible coins in other sports and entertainment properties in the future, but it is focusing on hockey at the moment.
“We have a formula that we go through when building trading card products,” Masherah said. “We know essentially over the years from consumers how they like to see things delivered, what type of value they expect and essentially being able to utilize that and import it over to coins is really exciting.”
He added, “I look at this launch as similar to what we did with trading cards back in 1989. We feel like we’re essentially stepping into precious metal coins and delivering a quality that hasn’t been seen before and a new delivery method for the consumer.”
Bert Lehman is the editor of Sports Collectors Digest. He can be reached at Bert.Lehman@fwmedia.com.