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.


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