In The Game Turns Over a New Leaf
As most veteran collectors know, I have been in this hobby for twenty-two years.
In order to understand what lead me to make the decision I made last week, you would have to hear my trading card story. For those who already know it, I apologize but here is the condensed version, I probably could write book on the subject, if anyone cared to read it.
I started out as a licensor of the Parkhurst name first to Pro Set in 1990 and after they went bankrupt to Upper Deck in 1993. I found the Parkhurst name dormant and brought it back to hockey cards, something I am very proud of.
By 1995 I was out of the business and back to collecting both cards and game-used jerseys. By now visitors to both the Spring and Fall Expos have seen some of my game-worn collection, that too I am very proud of.
In 1999, I was asked by Ted Saskin of the NHLPA to manufacture their Be A Player brand. In The Game, Inc. was born.
In 2003-04 during the lock-out, the NHLPA gave Upper Deck an exclusive licensing agreement for five years without even giving In The Game a chance to match or beat their offer. We were just told to close shop, but not so fast.
Well I was either too stubborn or too stupid to do that and I continued to make hockey cards utilizing our hockey knowledge, vintage memorabilia, great player relationships, my loyal staff and our passion for the game of hockey and the hockey trading card hobby.
Did the NHL or the NHLPA approve of this, absolutely not!
They have threatened, they have contacted agents and players about our products, they have done lots of things over the past 10 year period to put us out of business.
The road I have followed has not been an easy one.
After the lock-out ended and during the Upper Deck exclusive era, collectors wanted another choice for collecting and In The Game provided that. We had five great years. Thank you all for that.
Then along came Panini. It is not important what I think about Panini and their products but they did give collectors another choice for those who would not buy Upper Deck and the last three years have been difficult ones for In The Game.
We have come out with some great products during this period of time that have been embraced by collectors; Forever Rivals, Ultimate Memorabilia 11 and 12, Superlative Hockey III and The First Six, Motown Madness, Decades The 80s and 90s, Lord Stanley’s Mug and StickWorks to name a few.
But the battle to stay viable continued to get more and more difficult.
Two years ago the NHLPA did a backdoor deal with the PHPA (union for the AHL players) and we lost that license after nine loyal years. To date no licensed AHL cards have been produced although I hear Upper Deck is doing a boxed set product one day.
This was another blow to our product line but we kept marching on. Competing with Upper Deck and Panini, while fighting the NHLPA and their continued interference with our business relationships was a daily routine that I and my loyal staff had to deal with.
This past year we went through the charade of applying for a license with both the NHLPA and NHL but I soon realized that they never gave us any real consideration. Upper Deck was given another exclusive licensing agreement.
In January, I sold the assets of my Famous Fabrics group and gave up my rights to produce Sport Kings cards to Brian Gray of Leaf Trading Cards in order to concentrate on In The Game hockey products.
During this negotiation Brian and I spent a long time discussing our mutual concerns about the industry, distribution issues, product creativity and trading card licensing.
I realized that we were both fighting the same battles on a daily basis, the only difference is that Brian Gray is twenty years younger than I am.
As the 2014 Spring Expo grew closer and we worked day and night to get our products out on time, I realized that everything I was doing was not paying off.
No redemptions, on-time release dates, authentic game-used memorabilia and many other features that In The Game was known for were being dominated by photo shoot jerseys (has anyone really seen the photo shoot pictures that these jerseys come from), redemption cards that never get fulfilled and eventually get replaced, parallels of parallels of parallels (you get the picture).
I finally got the message collectors were delivering, the other companies seem to be delivering what they wanted and it seemed that ITG wasn’t giving it to them.
We had our very loyal collector base (I think they are the most sophisticated and passionate collectors in the entire hobby) but that was not enough to make a go of it.
Not sure if I was stubborn or stupid but I just didn’t want to give up especially when the NHLPA and the NHL announced that they had given Upper Deck another exclusive.
Should I fold my tent and let Upper Deck have the hockey card market to themselves?
Should I let the NHL and NHLPA finally defeat me?
Well I was close to making the decision to wind up In The Game after the Spring Expo and then Brian Gray and I spoke.
He called me because both our companies were not invited to the 2014 Industry Summit and wanted my thoughts on the matter. In The Game was not invited because Panini and the NHLPA put pressure on the promoter to exclude us. More crap from the NHLPA.
I told Brian that I was too old to keep fighting the same battles day in and day out and that there were more important things in life at my age than hockey cards, although I have been a collector for sixty years and still love collecting.
Brian suggested that we continue to talk and hope that two creative guys could come up with something that made sense.
After couple months of talking with Brian Gray, a meeting in Dallas was set up where I met his staff and toured his facility.
After this trip and based on what I saw and what I heard, I was ready to work with Leaf on ITG hockey products in some capacity.
So Brian Gray came up to Toronto one week before the Spring Expo with his key employees and after many hours of discussion an agreement was reached.
Our new relationship was announced at the In The Game Customer Appreciation Night on May 3rd at the Woodbine Centre.
Both Brian Gray and myself share the view that it is totally unfair to hockey card collectors that there is a monopoly.
So Upper Deck can produce whatever they want and if collectors don’t like it, they have nothing to collect. That’s just not right.
New products will come out with the two companies working together, adding elements from each to make new products better than ever.
Leaf will have a hand in new designs and adding elements from their brands that collectors have enjoyed over the years.
Leaf will also handle distribution and solicitation for all the products under the new relationship. ITG has never had as good distribution in the US as we would have liked but we do have exceptional distribution in Canada, so the combination of the two companies will solve this problem as Leaf is very strong on the US side.
The first product under the new arrangement will be the 2014 Draft Prospects release, a product that In The Game pioneered last year, this product comes out in June in time for the 2014 NHL Draft.
ITG worked on the autograph acquisitions while Leaf took care of the Base and Game-Used Memorabilia cards utilizing In The Game’s memorabilia inventory.
Leaf and ITG will work out more specific details on how the partnership will move forward in the coming weeks.
Get ready for a new era of Hockey from Leaf/ITG. Things are changing and collectors will now have a viable choice to the exclusive licensee.
To our loyal collectors, stick with us and give the new ITG a chance to keep your valued business.
To collectors who have never collected ITG products, take another look at what the new ITG has to offer and see if it appeals to you.