The Topps Company landed a decisive blow against Upper Deck earlier this week by signing an agreement with Major League Baseball that will give them exclusive rights to produce MLB baseball cards. The multi-year deal, which is expected to be officially announced later today, will take effect once the 2010 MLB Season begins next year.
The move was motivated by Major League Baseball's desire to simplify and expand their brand within the marketplace.
“There is a greater chance of organizing the marketplace with a singular partner," explained Tim Brosnan, Major League Baseball's Executive VP of Business, during a recent interview with the New York Times. “It's a business that's critically important to our mission, to make players icons to kids."
Major League Baseball is banking on the fact that dropping Upper Deck will gives Topps, under the direction of former Disney CEO Michael Eisner, the opportunity to reignite interest in the hobby, particularly among children. They also believe that having an exclusive baseball card manufacturer will prevent prospective collectors from being overwhelmed by the multitude of sets and brands available for purchase.
Eisner told the New York Times, “This is redirecting the entire category toward kids. Topps has been making cards for 60 years, the last 30 in a nonexclusive world that has caused confusion to the kid who walks into a Wal-Mart or a hobby store. It's also been difficult to promote cards as unique and original."
Eisner cited his company's success as the exclusive soccer cardmaker of the English Premier League and the German Bundesliga as proof that sports cards could still appeal to younger fans.
“They're buying them, trading them, the way I did when I was a kid," said Eisner. “We're going to be very aggressive in letting retailers, kids and hobbyists know that we are the card that represents it all."
Since taking over the reigns of Topps, Eisner has directed much of his new company's efforts towards child-centric trading card initiatives. In addition to producing a highly lauded insert set of 3-D cards for 2009 Topps Baseball, Eisner's Topps launched ToppsTown, an online trading card collecting community for kids, and released an MLB themed trading card game called Topps Attax.
Upper Deck has remained tight lipped regarding Topps' agreement with Major League Baseball thus far. Despite the fact that they will lose MLB licensing in 2010, Upper Deck is far from out of the game. Last month Upper Deck renewed its baseball card license with the Major League Baseball Players Association which will allow them to produce baseball card sets that feature MLB Players on them. While Upper Deck baseball cards will still feature familiar faces, they will no longer be permitted to include MLB team logos and trademarks on them.