Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Upper Deck and Collecting Modern CFL Cards - (Volume 1 Addition)

In 2014 the CFL finally returned to the "Big Leagues" in terms of trading card product produced by one of the leaders of the industry in North America. Not to take anything away from the stellar job Jogo did carrying the ball for three decades or even other companies who made decent CFL sets for a couple of years here and there, but there is some historical significance to the fact that it had been 43 years since the last O-Pee-Chee (a licensee of U.S, trading card giant Topps) CFL set.

Hobby (24 packs per box) and Retail (8 packs per box) boxes of Upper Deck's 2014 CFL offering (boxes not to scale). It is uncertain whether the retail boxes were ever actually stocked by any retailers in Canada, they may have been just available for online purchase.

Upper Deck was decidedly the most important catalyst of the sportscard boom of the late eighties / early nineties when their innovative and groundbreaking baseball cards revitalized the industry and spurred the company's massive growth. After decades of dominating the sportscard industry Upper Deck started to decline in the professional sports area and began losing some of it's major league licenses to rival companies (like Panini! the Italian based company known for its sticker sets worldwide). Having no football license anymore with the NFL the company reportedly approached the CFL Players Association and offered to take over CFL card production.

Base cards in the set include 100 offensive players, two player checklists, short printed defensive players and short printed star rookies. 

The company actually produced a trial set of CFL All-Star cards in 2013 although distribution was apparently by random ebay seller and there did not seem to be any presence of the cards whatsoever on the Upper Deck company web site or online store. But it wasn't until 2014 that the CFL received the full blown Upper Deck card issue treatment with multiple subsets and deliberate short-printing of many type of cards and varieties that is somewhat de rigueur for today's modern trading card set.

Chase cards in the set include Grey Cup Moments, CFL Signatures and Short Prints and Autograph Short Prints of CFL Legends Doug Flutie and Warren Moon. These cards are all quite limited with only 10 of the Flutie & Moon Autograph cards made. 

The 2014 cards were available from the company web store, but only for sale to Canadian addresses, a novel idea whose exact purpose is not entirely clear. In any case the cards themselves are high-quality with well thought out subsets and there is no lack of chase cards for those inclined to enjoy that part of collecting. The set has been well received judging by dealer sales and business in the product on ebay has been brisk with considerable sums changing hands for some of the scarcer cards. But as with most new product I would estimate that prices will stabilize over time to roughly a third of  some of the high bid prices that were realized when the set was first released.

O-Pee-Chee returns to the CFL courtesy of the retro subset which also features (unstated in the promotional material) blank back short printed cards. Upper Deck now licenses the O-Pee-Chee brand name. Other subsets include the attractive and popular O-Pee-Chee team logo patches, game worn jerseys and game worn jersey patches. 

When it comes to collecting modern cards, the CFL collecting community is a little different from the fans that collect the four major North American leagues. Generally speaking the collectors of vintage sports cards and memorabilia are often completely uninterested in any modern (usually meaning 1990 and up) product at all, regardless of sport, rarity or subset topic. The huge glut of overproduced and overwrought modern product in the nineties and beyond failed to hold their interest, was expensive and did not hold its value very well. Many of the features of these products, such as extremely limited chase cards and classic game equipment cut up to be encapsulated on cards, they found distasteful and they were frustrated that these aspects made it impossible to collect whole sets. On the other hand there is obviously a very different demographic market for these newer products with many younger fans of the NHL, NBA, NFL & MLB actively collecting and pursuing these types of cards.

Additional special issues included two Rider cards that customers were given when purchasing Upper Deck packs at the Rider store and a 2014 All-Star set released at the Grey Cup in Vancouver. 
So while the CFL's collecting base is decidedly older and dominated by those focusing on vintage material, there is still a lot of crossover interest from the same collectors for the newer cards and products. In part this is because the CFL card market did not get anywhere near as much of the over hyped glut of modern cards spewed out over the last two decades as the other North American sports did. CFL card collectors are normally just happy to have any cards to collect, period!  The distinct younger generation that grew up on these types of modern issues is basically absent for the CFL. With few exceptions, there were no mainstream trading card products to buy for over 40 years, neither traditional cards at the corner stores in the 70s & 80s nor newer technology cards at the hobby shops in the 90's and 2000's.

Oversize blank backed cards were available at the Grey Cup in Vancouver as well for certain players to sign. It is unknown why some of the cards say "Players Edition" and others do not. Presumably these are genuine Upper Deck products but more research is required.

There is no disputing that the Upper Deck product is top-notch and it will be interesting to see whether or not the company can succeed in establishing a vibrant collecting base for modern style CFL products. This is part of the league's strategy to grow the brand and engage younger generations as life long fans of the game. Thanks to super CFL collector Steve Irwin for some of the images and information used in this post.

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