I have been receiving emails and Private Messages on Hobby Boards suggesting that I fight fire with fire and sign players to exclusives.
Upper Deck for years have tied up some of the best hockey legions with exclusives. Wayne Gretzky, Bobby Orr and Gordie Howe to name three of the best players ever.
Earlier this year we offered Wayne Gretzky a non-exclusive proposal as we heard his agreement with Upper Deck was expiring and they owed him money (surprise, surprise). We made a generous offer and we waited for a reply. After more than a month we were informed that he renewed his exclusive agreement with Upper Deck. Was our offer levered so that Gretzky got paid by Upper Deck? Maybe! We will never know, nor does it matter. We didn’t get Gretzky.
Bobby Orr is another story. Don’t know how many of you can remember but back in 1994 when I licensed Parkhurst to Upper Deck, I had the right to make three retrospective products. The three products were The Missing Link, Tall Boys and the Bobby Orr Rookie. We began a wonderful relationship with Bobby that lasted over a decade. Then came the Upper Deck exclusive “big money” and Bobby signed with UD. Earlier this year I made Bobby Orr a non-exclusive offer because Upper Deck owed him money as well. Again, Upper Deck paid and we missed out on Bobby Orr, for now.
Gordie Howe is perhaps the most disappointing story of the three greats. When I owned Parkhurst, Gordie Howe was our spokesperson. Gordie, Colleen and I had a personal relationship. We spent some quality time together. Unfortunately, when Colleen became ill and could no longer handle Gordie’s business dealings, they hired a non-family member in her place. Next thing I knew, without the opportunity to match the offer, Upper Deck signed Gordie to an exclusive. Although I won’t speculate exactly what happened, that same individual was fired in disgrace not too many years later. We continue to try and get Gordie back but to date have not been successful.
The new NHL/NHLPA license does not allow Upper Deck or Panini to have exclusives with current players but it does not preclude licensees from having exclusives with retired players. That is why UD can maintain their relationships with Wayne Gretzky, Bobby Orr and Gordie Howe.
Remember the fairy tale the tortoise and the hare, I am a patient man. This year we got Mark Messier and Steve Yzerman back. Next year, who knows!
Our agreements for now have been non-exclusive so that collectors can get the players they want from any company’s products they choose to buy. Maybe that should change under the current circumstances. I am not sure I want to fight this kind of a fight where the collectors lose.
Let’s say I offer Sidney Crosby a boat load of money and sign him to an exclusive, then he would not be available in my competitors products, products they might want to collect. That’s not what collecting is about. Sure this is a business but some companies have forgotten that collecting is the backbone of this business and if collectors leave the hobby there is no business.
So for now, NO EXCLUSIVES. That’s for now, not forever. There is only so much one old guy can take.