Thursday, November 18, 2010

2010 Toronto Fall Expo - Thoughts (Part 2)

My main purpose this time around at the Toronto Sport Card & Memorabilia Fall Expo was to take in the corporate atmosphere and participate in as many wrapper redemptions as possible. Far too many amazing card were dangled in front of collectors and I felt the driving need to acquire them gnawing at me.

However, before I get into them, I noticed I was neglectful in posting a scan of the program provided faithfully via snail mail, twice a year, promoting the Spring and Fall shows.

Here it is.

One of the players I was on a quest for on Saturday was Edmonton Oiler, Jordan Eberle. I really enjoyed following his career through the O.H.L. and have slowly but surely become a fan of his. The next natural step, of course, is becoming a collector of his cards. The problem is, when the player you like is on everyone else's radar screen it becomes rather difficult to get the latest offerings so soon after their release. Case in point is this card.......

.......Upper Deck Series 1 Card #220. In the Hockey Card world the 'Young Guns' RCs are considered to be THE Rookie Card to have. This particular card was selling for $80 on the floor of The Expo. To make things more trying there is also this card.......

.......Upper Deck Series 1 Card #220 20th Anniversary Retro Variation. I saw only 1 on the entire floor and the dealer was asking $120. Suffice it to say, I came home with neither one.

Upper Deck were back at The Expo with another installment of their EXTREMELY popular 'Priority Signings' wrapper redemption program. All you had to do was bust a box of 2010-11 Upper Deck Series 1 Hockey or a box of 2010-11 Upper Deck Artifacts Hockey and you could select a random penny sleeved package containing an exclusively designed and autographed 'Priority Signings' card.

Now, when I capitalize how popular Upper Deck's redemption program is, it still does not convey it properly. The last time I was a part of this program you needed to line up about an hour and a half BEFORE it was scheduled to start as the redemption only runs for 2 hours per day. Needless to say by the time I made my way to the line it was well beyond what I had hoped to see and I knew the chances of me making it through before the end were very slim. Fortunately for me, the few who had attended the 'Collectors Roundtable' earlier that morning received a greatly appreciated "Thank-you" gift, our own packed 'Priority Signings' penny sleeve.

Sandwiched between these two cards.......

.......I unveiled Card #PS-NG numbered 15/75. Nathan Gerbe of the Buffalo Sabres.

Jordan Eberle was not a part of the 'Priority Signings' checklist but there were definitely some names I would have loved to have added to my collection. The best variation discovered from the show was that there were two versions of Gordie Howe's card. One featured him in a Red Wings uniform and the other featured him in a Hartford Whalers uniform. The Whalers version was numbered out of 3.

I still plan on opening some UDS1 in order to chase the Eberle 'Young Guns', but the money I had set aside for this redemption ended up being spent on a different Upper Deck product that has captured my attention. The subject of which will be a taken care of in a later post.

The next company I set my sights on was In The Game. The first 1500 people through the turnstiles every day received a card that could be redeemed at their booth for a gift bag that included a pack of 2006-07 'Between The Pipes', a pack of 2001-02 'Parkhurst', a pack of 2002-03 'All Star Edition' and a pack of 2007-08 'Heroes and Prospects'. Also in the bag was a copy of 'Insider's Edge' magazine plus some promotional pamphlets highlighting upcoming releases including their highly anticipated 2011 'Heroes and Prospects' Baseball.

ITG's Fall Expo exclusive card set was a daunting 45-card set handed out in 5-card packages, 1 per gift bag. I received cards numbered ITG-08, ITG-11, ITG-23, ITG-39 and ITG-43. I may look into the feasibility of actually trying to put this set together but I have a feeling it may prove rather time consuming. Here's a look at the cards I have.

The Kharlamov card made me real happy. I have always liked Russian players, especially the ones who could give any talented Canadian a run for their money.

The final "freebie" from ITG was a chance to spin the prize wheel. You had a shot at one of three prizes; A pack of cards, a random bobblehead figure or a single spot on the wheel paid off a Blaster Box of 2007-08 'Heroes and Prospects' - Arena Version. Guess what yours truly landed.......

I am planning on ripping the blaster while I learn how to use UStream at some point soon.

'In The Game' had some really nice sounding wrapper redemption programs running at the Fall Expo but the products I would have liked to have opened were too far out of my current budget. Maybe next year.

Last, but definitely not least, were the wrapper redemptions and challenges from Panini. I spent the most time, and perhaps arguably too much time, at their booth. Scott Prusha and the other representatives from Panini had a continual exciting vibe going all day long. It did not hurt their efforts that there was one Expo goer who was opening case after case of 2010-11 Panini Certified Hockey.

Panini's wrapper redemption program was one Expo Exclusive pack of cards per box of 2010-11 Score Hockey or 5 packs of any other qualifying Panini/Donruss/Leaf product. Inside the packs were cards showing off the upcoming Donruss Hockey release from Panini. Randomly inserted into packs were autographed cards, patch cards, autographed patch cards, serial numbered cards out of 5 and a whole bunch more instant win cards. To top it all off they had included the very player I had decided to chase at this Expo in their exclusives.

I was going to hit this.......

I opened up two boxes of Certified Hockey, trying not only to finish my base set but to hopefully find one of these.......

.......sadly, I was thwarted yet again. Not to worry, I had 4 redemption packs to rip and I knew, I just knew, that I was going to come away with something exclusive to add to my collection. The Donruss cards look pretty slick and the retro 'D' definitely looks good back on cardboard. Out of the four packs I pulled these.......

A Trifecta of Ryan Millers

A couple Taylor Hall RRs

Yes, they both say 1 of 250. Do not know why.

Finishing off the Donruss cards I have a couple of Leafs. Jonas Gustavsson and Nazem Kadri.......

.......and one of the most entertaining players to watch in the N.H.L., Ovie.

I am not sure if there has ever been a point in hockey where two players have emerged on the scene and polarized fans as much as Crosby and Ovechkin. Very rarely have I spoken with fans who like BOTH players. They are Hockey's version of "The Beatles or The Rolling Stones", "Coke or Pepsi" or "Ginger or Mary Ann". Truly a good time to be a fan.

Now, let's get a look at the inserts I pulled from the redemption packs. The very first one I opened felt like it had a pretty thick card inside. I was hoping and praying it was what I had come to Panini's booth for. As I peeled away the card on top.......

.......I could not believe it, I had bucked the odds and snagged an auto patch of Jordan Eberle. Just like I.......

.......aaarrrgghhh!! DENIED!!! However, if I had to get another Oiler player then Magnus was the one to get. He may have quite a ways to go in becoming a two-way player but the upside on this guy is big. Admittedly I know very little about him, seeing as his junior career kept him in Sweden, but from what I managed to see of him in the World Junior Championship Tournament as well as the Under-18 Tournament he can give defensemen fits when carrying the puck.

I did manage to get three of the cards that were serial #'d out of 5. Two of them went to the guy who was busting case after case of Certified Hockey because he was kind enough to see that I did not leave the Panini booth without at least ONE Jordan Eberle card. Patrick Roy and Brian Gionta were traded for this beauty of a card, serial #d 2/5.

The one remaining serial #'d card is of a player and from a sport that I could not know less about if I tried. Someone beside me when I opened it said he was a decent player. I will have to take their word for it and put it to you, dear reader, to let me know who he is.

The second feature contest/event at the Panini booth was the hourly "Box Wars". Essentially collectors were encouraged to battle amongst themselves looking for a particular statistic or achievement from the cards they pulled. The BEST part was that unlike the usual box/pack wars, everyone got to keep their cards. The winner(s) were then to select a numbered card from the prize box and win the corresponding prize from the Panini Showcase sitting front and centre at their booth. There was also a Grand Prize draw for the winners of each Box War for the entire weekend, a 2010 Classics 'Classic Cuts' auto of former U.S. President Gerald Ford.

I chose to enter the "Box Wars" featuring the 2010-11 Score Hockey release. By the time the bell rang to start the fight there had to have been at least 30 people involved. The mylar was flying. The goal of this round was to be the first to pull a 'Snow Globe' Die-cut insert of a goalie. There are 3 in the set and in my second to last pack I saw this.......

.......and staked my claim as a Panini Box Wars Champion. Only one other goalie card was found in this round so two cards from the prize cabinet were going home from Toronto. Before we chose our winning numbers though we both got a pretty sweet autographed 8x10 of Toronto Maple Leaf, Nazem Kadri.

I selected lucky number 19. Lucky number 19 ended up belonging to an Emerald Green Prime patch/autograph 'Freshman Fabric' from 2010-11 Certified Hockey featuring Tyler Seguin of the Boston Bruins. Immediately one of the nicest looking patch cards in my collection. Being a 1/1 does not hurt either. Truly a beautiful card.

It is surprising how much time can fly when you get caught up watching other people rip boxes of cards. By the time I had finished trolling around the corporate area, talking with fellow collectors and watching some pretty amazing hits delivered by boxes, I barely had time to browse the dealers tables at the show. I did manage to find a few baseball cards that I was looking for but most of the time was spent getting an idea of who people were collecting and what the hottest product out there was.

Every single representative from Panini, Upper Deck and In The Game could not have been more inviting and kind to every collector that took the time to stop by their respective booths. Later in the day there were impromptu giveaways that drew crowds that spilled out and around the corner of the corporate area. It was really great to see the enthusiasm of everyone and to hear very little of the grumbling and negativity that seems to accompany freebie giveaways all too often.

Keep coming back as I will be covering some of the questions that Upper Deck dealt with at the 'Collectors Roundtable' that they hosted Saturday morning.

Thanks for stopping by.


Sunday, November 14, 2010

2010 Toronto Fall Expo - Thoughts (Part 1)

My Saturday started earlier than a usual Saturday.

Today was my one and only day to get to the fall edition of the 'Sportscard & Memorabilia Expo' for 2010. This bi-annual show is the largest of its kind in Ontario. Dealers and Collectors alike make the trek from all around to browse, trade, sell and add to theirs and countless others collections. Being a show held in Canada it is understandable that over 90% of the content on the floor and the focus of the event is dedicated to Hockey. While partially disheartening for a Baseball fan, it makes for an entertaining and ultimately rewarding challenge to find the few dealers that are not Hockey-centric.

One of the main reasons for getting to the show early was the "Hobby Roundtable" that Upper Deck was hosting starting when the doors first opened. Apparently UD had been hosting these types of events for a few years now at The Expo. However, judging by the few in attendance (actually countable on 2 hands), these are either poorly advertised or the "everyday collector" has little interest in connecting with the people who they give a great deal of their hard-earned money to on a daily basis. This was the first I had attended since returning to the Hobby over 2 years ago.

In attendance from Upper Deck were Chris Carlin from Marketing, Grant Sandground from New Product Development and Jason Yenglin from Customer Service and Redemptions. Also part of the group was Angelo Exarhakos from Universal Distribution.

The first topic covered by Chris Carlin was the emergence of not only Upper Deck's presence, but the Hobby's presence in general, on Social Media sites like Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, BBS Forums and blogging. Upper Deck's biggest project in this area is the 'Upper Deck Volunteer Alliance' whose purpose, according to Carlin, was to not only engage the collector in new and interactive ways but also to bring back a positive aspect to the Hobby which tends to be more deficit-focused. A couple attendees were members of the UDVA and several ideas were passed around designed to attracting kids back to collecting.

One of the upcoming fan-focused events covered was the third annual Upper Deck National Hockey Card Day Promotion. Designed to work along side the well established N.H.L. New Year traditions like the 'Winter Classic' outdoor game annually scheduled for New Year's Day, and the 10-year-old 'Hockey Day In Canada' celebration happening January 30th, 2011 started by the CBC and Hockey Night In Canada. On February 12th, 2011 special promotional packs of a 15-card set will be given out for free at participating Hobby Stores much the same as the past two years. However, this year a special 16th card will be available as a purchase reward. The card will commemorate the first Stanley Cup win for Jonathan Toews.

In addition to the National Hockey Card Day promotion Chris talked about several other reward programs that are in development. One of the more interesting was the 'Collect-to-win' idea that has been used several times before, but held a significant interest due to a related story out of the Fall Expo. Series 1 Upper Deck Hockey was released with a 4-card-per-box parallel 20th Anniversary version. Upper Deck recently announced that there would be a 'Collect-to-win Contest' associated with that particular parallel set. As a testament to collector fanaticism, barely 48-hours into its release the first completed set was turned in at the Upper Deck booth at the Fan Expo.

Next to speak was Jason Yenglin from Upper Deck's Customer Service and Redemptions department. Having barely settled into the job he was the one who inherited the 2009 SP 'Mystery Cut Signatures' nightmare. While stating that ideally redemptions should never be a part of the product, they are a necessity due to unforeseen circumstances. His goal is to not only get redemptions out in a more timely fashion, obviously, but he wants to come up with a way to handle expired redemptions. With the introduction of social media outlets, the opportunity for collectors to have a direct line to resolution of issues with damaged product has become a possibility. Remember here, for the average collector years ago, there was never the thought that you had a remedy for damaged product. Trying to properly compensate for these returns is a daunting task in itself.

The last one to address the roundtable was Grant Sandground from New Product Development. What Grant had to offer was really exciting news about upcoming releases and some creative ways that Upper Deck will be delivering some of their recognized products in new and interesting ways. One of the coolest mentions was how Upper Deck Ice was going to be delivered to collectors this year. Previously it had been a stand-alone product. Now, as a result of having to scale back their number of releases, 'UD Ice' will be a "product layover addition' in 'Black Diamond and 'SPx'. 'Series 1 Ice' will contain 30 veterans and 21 rookies and be distributed 1 pack per box of Black Diamond containing 5 cards per pack, 4 cards being veterans and 1 card being a rookie. What was made crystal clear was that 'UD Ice' is not a part of 'UD Black Diamond'. None of the deliverables in 'Black Diamond' will be scaled back. 'UD Ice' is simply an additional product included. 'Series 2 Ice' will be released with the exact same number of veterans and rookies as Series 1, but will be packaged with 'SPx'.

The one pressing subject I wanted to discuss about Hockey releases this year was the inclusion of the Shadowbox cards in Hockey. Grant confirmed that they would be released in 'SPx' and that there was an additional wrinkle to them involving 4 of the card subjects. There will be 4 Shadowbox cards produced featuring Gordie Howe, Wayne Gretzky, Bobby Orr and Sidney Crosby that are autographed. Once again, the messaged was stressed that these will NOT be parallels of the regular Shadowbox cards. They will be their own card. As an example, the Gretzky Shadowbox card may feature him in a Rangers uniform and the autographed Shadowbox card will have him in an Edmonton Oiler uniform.

As mentioned earlier the 'Collect-and-win' rewards program is going to be a focus of Upper Deck. 'Upper Deck Series 2' Hockey will build on the '20th Anniversary' parallel set. Throughout its evolution Upper Deck's flagship hockey set has become a 250-card per series release. Back in 1990-91 the set was 550 cards. Grant mentioned that this has not been lost on Upper Deck and that the parallel set will be 550 cards, including an All-Rookie Team, Award Winners, retired players and something involving Canadian World Juniors.

A tentative release schedule was discussed for Upper Deck Hockey products as well, here is what was mentioned;

Black Diamond - November 30th
O-Pee-Chee - December 14th
SP Game Used - December 28th
SPx - January 11th
Upper Deck Series 2 - Mid February

Having never participated in something like this before I had no preconceptions as to what to expect. I was pleasantly surprised by the willingness to discuss almost any subject and to honestly give their opinions in the answers. Being able to speak directly to the people involved in producing what we spend our hard earned money on, and having them face the questions we come up with daily made all the difference. The Toronto Fall Expo and card manufacturing companies could learn a great deal from this event and schedule more of these events for collectors. This show was beginning to feel just like a vendor-focused show and less like an Expo should be.

Thanks to Upper Deck, thanks to Chris Carlin, Grant Sandground and Jason Yenglin and thanks to all the collectors who showed up. This was truly one of the highlights of the Fall Expo for me.

Throughout the roundtable we had the opportunity to ask questions of each individual. My next post will be a recap of those questions and the sometimes lengthy discussions that emerged. Keep coming back and hopefully I will keep interesting you.