You know, I believe in the economic idea that competition between companies means a better product for the consumer. However, given the recent slate of releases from Upper Deck, combined with the swings and misses from Donruss, it’s safe to say that there is no real competition for Topps.
When you have beyond-mediocre releases such as A Piece of History, Goudey, First Edition, Icons, X, SPx, Elite Extra Edition, not to mention the barely-even-worth-mentioning TriStar releases, is it even fair to say anyone competes with Topps? Did any of these releases even close to registering even a footstep, a faint zephyr of a breath against Heritage and Allen & Ginter?
Even Topps’ problematic recent products, such as Stadium Club, were far better than the best of what Upper Deck released in 2008-09. That said, I find it difficult to even raise an eyebrow at Major League Baseball’s decision to award Topps an exclusive license. Upper Deck has not only failed to compete against Topps, they’re flooding the market with one mediocre release after another — which is precisely what moved MLB to rescind Donruss’ license for 2006 and beyond.
Competition is a great thing when there’s actual competition. Sadly, it’s clear that Upper Deck rested on its laurels, and has been in cruise control for some time now. Their designs seem so boring, if not outright recycled. And when a company doesn’t have the same sort of archival history that Topps does, recycling designs is a doomed idea from the start. Heritage makes sense from a historical standpoint, but there’s nothing particularly historic about 1995 SP Authentic.
Out of duty, it seems, I’m compiling this year’s (and apparently final) Upper Deck base set. I’m also still looking forward to Goodwin Champions. But given the mistakes and miscues rampant in everything Upper Deck lately, I have strong doubts that it’ll be the sort of knock-it-out-of-the-park success that Upper Deck so badly needs. It’s sad really, that the same company that produced one of the hobby’s most iconic cards would go on to produce such garbage in the future — drawing parallels with other dying breeds, i.e. Detroit’s Big Three.
I think the comparison to Chrysler and GM is appropriate — one-time king of the hill. Now, just a second-rate, barely-even-there competitor. Many of the same mistakes were made — hubris that came about from early successes clouded their innovative streak — which in turn left us with a sad shadow of what once was.
While it’ll certainly be odd to see just Topps wax on the pegboards next year, I know that I won’t be missing Upper Deck’s presence. When it comes to economics, I’ve never been a big fan of consolidation. It limits consumer choice, and inevitably causes the consolidated company to get lazy. We’ll see if Topps can avoid that — then again, Upper Deck appears to be doing fine with its hockey exclusive, and by all appearances Donruss is doing fine with its football exclusive. But in the world of baseball cards, Upper Deck has so badly mismanaged its franchise, it amounts to a virtual consolidation. There is no real choice — UD’s product is so feeble, the consumer has no real choice but Topps.