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Could This Be The End of Be A Player Trading Cards?

June 10, 2011

The 2010-11 hockey season has almost drawn to a close and with an exciting Stanley Cup Final underway plus the relocation of the Atlanta Thrashers to Winnipeg, it’s a great time to be a hockey fan.

But is it a great time for Be A Player?

I don’t think so. Neither card company licensed by the National Hockey League and the National Hockey League Players’ Association seems to be releasing the Be A Player brand this year.

BAP may be MIA – missing in action. Panini and Upper Deck don’t have a set with that name on their release schedules and collectors might be missing out on an annual release that has a strong tradition behind it.

One of the main reasons this really irks me is because I made every effort possible to once again start a working relationship with the NHL and the NHLPA once Upper Deck’s five-year exclusive ended last year. While I was at least given a chance to meet with the NHL, the NHLPA rebuffed us completely and In The Game was once again on the outside looking in. Had we been allowed to make licensed NHL trading cards, I think it would have been natural for us to breathe new life into a brand that we took off life support in 1998 held for so many years.

Back in 1998, I was asked by Ted Saskin to take over the brand after Pinnacle went into bankruptcy and the other card companies either would not or were unable to take over the Be A Player line. I sincerely believe that I was able to make some of the most exciting and collectible cards in the hobby over six seasons and took the brand to a whole new level. Many collectors would agree with that statement as well, so it saddens me greatly to see the brand that I worked so many years to bring back into prominence, be left dormant.

For those of you who are new to collecting or have returned to the hobby in recent years, here is a quick history of the Be A Player brand.

In 1993-94 with a labor interruption on the horizon, Upper Deck starts using the BAP brand on trading cards. They released a small boxed-set featuring player in street clothes (no NHL team logos were used) and the cards were also used on hang tags for a Roots clothing line.

From 1994-95 to 1995-96 Upper Deck continued to makes hockey’s first NHLPA-licensed one-autograph-per-pack product. There were no logos on cards as the NHL did not participate.

However, 1996-97 saw Pinnacle enter into the autographed hockey card market and produce two separate series of Be A Player, one autograph per pack products. By the end of the following season, Pinnacle’s aggressiveness in the trading card market took its toll and the company went bankrupt leaving most of their Series B product locked in Pinnacles warehouse.

In the summer of 1998, Ted Saskin called me to ask me a favor.  Since Ted was very instrumental several years earlier in helping me get a settlement from Upper Deck for the licensing of my Parkhurst brand, I thought I should help.

Ted wanted to know what to do with the Be A Player brand and asked me to speak to collectors, dealers and distributors to see where the brand should be placed.

I will save the long version of this story for another blog but in the end, In The Game was incorporated to do Be A Player and the NHLPA received 70% of the profits. Since Upper Deck’s license was up for renewal that year, Saskin insisted that Upper Deck allow In The Game to use Gretzky in Be A Player.

I quick put together a great team and started making Be A Player trading cards under the In The Game brand and the first series called Be A Player – All-Star Edition was released in January 1999 in Tampa Bay. The second series was released in May of that year, Be A Player – Playoff Edition.

For the next four seasons, we put out an annual Be A Player Signature Series product. During that time, ITG also released an annual BAP Memorabilia set (with Update Sets) which focused heavily on rookie cards and memorabilia.

Our company also introduced their annual Draft Redemption cards in 2001-02. In The Game’s Ultimate Memorabilia product is also launched in 2000-01. In 2001-02, Between The Pipes was also introduced to collectors and is a hobby mainstay to this day.

The last year ITG was fully licensed by the NHL and NHLPA was 2003-04. In that year we made the bold move to change the annual Signature Series product to In The Game-Used Signature Series with one autograph and one memorabilia card per pack.

In 2004-05, In The Game denied a license by the NHLPA and no Be A Player brand products were issued.

Upper Deck took over the reins of BAP from 2005-06 to 2009-10 under their five-year exclusive and released an annual Be A Player set. Additionally, a product called Be A Player Portraits with oversized Autograph 8X10 cards released in 2006-07.

Now in 2010-11, the Be A Player brand is in limbo and there are no answers forthcoming from Upper Deck, the NHLPA or Panini.

As you can see, there has been a tumultuous history for Be A Player, but In The Game offered it a chance to grow and be an industry leader for six seasons. There’s no real reason why we couldn’t do it once again – but the chance to do that doesn’t seem to be available to us.

There is always going to be speculation as to why – and we don’t have all of the answers ourselves – but it would be nice to have an even playing field with Upper Deck and Panini.

Instead, we have soldiered on and created some great trading card products over the past six years. We also have a great working relationship with the CHL, AHL and PHPA in addition to hundreds of active and retired players. We’re already planning for next season and continue to listen to collectors and try to offer them the best value for their hobby dollar.

So, I ask this of all of you who read this blog – don’t you think it’s about time In The Game was given a chance to revive Be A Player again and take it to even greater heights?

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