The Upper Deck Company, LLC (colloquially as Upper Deck and Upper Deck Authenticated, Ltd. in the UK), founded in 1988, is a private company primarily known for producing trading cards. Its headquarters are in Carlsbad, California.[1][2]

The company also produces sports related items such as figurines and die-cast on top of having exclusive agreements to produce memorabilia (under the brand name Upper Deck Authenticated) with such sports superstars as; Michael Jordan, Derek Jeter, Tiger Woods, LeBron James, Kevin Garnett, Andrew Bynum, Albert Pujols, Grady Sizemore, Matt Kemp, James Loney, Sandy Koufax, and Ken Griffey Jr. Under the Upper Deck Entertainment name, the company also produced card games such as World of Warcraft.

Company historyEdit


On December 23, 1988, Upper Deck was granted a license by Major League Baseball to produce baseball cards, and just two months later, on February 23, 1989, delivered its first case of baseball cards to George Moore of Tulsa's Baseball Card Store in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Upper Deck sold out its baseball cards midway through this inaugural year, then pre-sold its entire 1990 baseball stock before the year began.

The 1990 set included the industry's first randomly inserted personally autographed and numbered cards of sports superstars. All Upper Deck brands bear an exclusive trademark hologram, and Upper Deck has been named "Card Set of the Year" every year since 1989, ranked number one, and earned favorite brand status with card collectors.[3]

Paul Sumner created the Upper Deck concept in 1987. He worked in printing sales and came up with the idea for a premium card. When he heard about card counterfeiting, he realized that he knew a way to protect cards. He had studied holograms in college and had used them in printing his company's brochures.[4] He hired Robert Young Pelton to design and produce a prototype. Pelton designed and produced the cards for Upper Decks first three year rise. After it was discovered that Richard McWilliam was counterfeiting cards Pelton and Sumner had a falling out with accountant McWilliam who seized control of the company. Pelton's agencies, Pelton & Associates and Digital Artists, were replaced by Chiat/Day. Paul Sumner resigned with the understanding that he would be known as the "Co-Founder of Upper Deck", something that the company's owner and CEO, Richard McWilliam, recognizes to this day. The early years of Upper Deck and their dramatic crash after Pelton and Sumner left are captured in Pete William's book "Card Sharks: How Upper Deck Turned a Child's Hobby into a High-Stakes, Billion-Dollar Business"

On March 20, 1990, The Upper Deck Company was granted licenses by the National Hockey League and National Hockey League Players Association to produce hockey cards. The company also obtained licenses from the National Football League and the National Basketball Association in 1990, making the Upper Deck Company the first trading card company in 10 years to be licensed by all four leagues. Upper Deck established itself so quickly that it rivaled Topps, which had been considered the standard, and other companies such as Fleer, Donruss and Score. By 1991, the company built a Template:Convert/sqftTemplate:Convert/track/abbr/Template:Convert/track/disp/Template:Convert/track/adj/on plant of brown marble and black glass on a hilltop Template:Convert/miTemplate:Convert/track/abbr/Template:Convert/track/disp/Template:Convert/track/adj/ north of San Diego.[4]

After Upper Deck introduced its premium baseball series, other companies followed with improved photography, better design and higher-quality paper stock. The sports card market grew from $50 million in 1980 when Topps's monopoly was broken by Fleer, to a $1.5 billion industry in 1992.[4] Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson, served as an adviser in the early 1990s.[5]

At the beginning of the 1992–93 NHL season, Upper Deck made Patrick Roy a spokesperson. Roy was an ideal choice as he was a hockey card collector, and his collection amounted to over 150,000 cards. An ad campaign was launched and it had an adverse effect on Patrick Roy’s season. Upper Deck had a slogan called “Trade Roy”, and it was posted on billboards throughout the city of Montreal.[6] A Journal de Montreal poll, published on January 13, 1993, indicated that 57% of fans favoured trading Patrick Roy.[6] Before the trading deadline, Canadiens General Manager Serge Savard insisted that he would consider a trade for Roy.[7] The Canadiens ended the season by winning only 8 of their last 19 games.[8]

Upper Deck was also the first to insert swatches of game-used material into cards when it made jersey cards in 1997 UD Basketball. The insert set was called Game Jersey and a similar set followed in baseball the next year, where UD cut up game-used jerseys of Ken Griffey, Jr., Tony Gwynn and Rey Ordóñez.

In 1999, Upper Deck Company spent in excess of $1.1 million in acquiring vintage baseball memorabilia items at the Barry Halper Collection auction held at Sotheby's in New York City.[9] One of the items was a Ty Cobb jersey that Upper Deck paid $332,500 for. As part of a sweepstakes prize, it gave the jersey to 14-year-old Robert Shell of Milwaukee. At the time, the estimated tax Robert was going to pay on the prize was $125,000. The amount, his mother said, would force the family to sell the jersey.[10]

In May 2005, Richard McWilliam was honored at the sports collectible industry's annual trade convention in Hawaii as the industry's "most influential" person of the past 20 years.[3] In addition to McWilliam's award, Upper Deck was also recognized for the debut of its legendary[11] 1989 baseball trading card set, which included the then 19-year-old centerfielder Ken Griffey, Jr., as the "most influential" event of the past 20 years. The list of nominees was created and voted upon by the editorial sports staff of F+W Publications (organizers of the conference and the parent organization of popular collectibles magazines such as Sports Collectors Digest, Trade Fax, Tuff Stuff, and Card Trade).[3]

In July 2005, Upper Deck won the liquidation auction of former competitor Fleer-SkyBox International's brand name, assets, and business model, as well as the Fleer Collectibles die-cast business assets. In March 2007, Upper Deck made an offer to buy competitor Topps,[12] competing with Madison Dearborn Partners and Tornante Company, the eventual buyer.

Upper Deck originally included the year of the trading card set's release on its logo, with the "19" above "Upper" and the last two digits of the year under "Deck" (but both inside the green diamond). This practice was dropped midway through the 1994 season. In 2008, Upper Deck retired the green diamond logo and replaced it with a new design that it could better use to market all of its products.

In 2009, Upper Deck introduced the Diamond Club. Diamond Club members consist of the top individual purchasers and collectors of Upper Deck and Fleer brands throughout the United States, Canada and Japan. The criteria were that the members distinguished themselves not only by the amount of money they spent, but by how they helped to promote these products within the hobby and to other collectors. Diamond Club members receive special promotional items, receive invitations to special events and are invited to an annual summit where they can share ideas with members of Upper Deck while participating in a special reception with one of the company's spokesmen. Fewer than 125 members are chosen to be a part of the program each year.[13]

On August 6, 2009, Major League Baseball announced it entered into a multi-year deal with Topps giving it exclusive rights to produce MLB trading cards. Upper Deck will retain its rights to produce cards bearing player likenesses via its contract with the MLBPA but will be unable to use team logos or other trademarked images. On February 1, 2010, Major League Baseball filed a federal lawsuit against Upper Deck for trademark infringement.[14] A mutual settlement was announced on March 3, 2010, stating that Upper Deck could continue selling its three current baseball card series (2009 Signature Stars, 2009 Ultimate Collection and 2010 Upper Deck Series One), although they are prohibited from using any MLB trademarks (including team logos and names) in any of their future baseball products. Despite this limitation, Upper Deck commented that they would still continue to produce baseball-related cards without the use of those trademarks.[15]

On September 29, 2009, Upper Deck created the company's first-ever packs of Finnish and Swedish language Victory hockey cards to go on sale in those markets.[16]

In February 2010, Blizzard Entertainment ended its licensing deal with Upper Deck. Upper deck had previously produced its World of Warcraft game.[17]

On April 7, 2010, Upper Deck announced it will no longer be licensed to produce NFL trading cards. Upper Deck spokesperson Terry Melia noted on his twitter account that, "UD was unable to come to terms with NFL Properties. No NFL Properties-licensed football cards from UD in 2010." Upper Deck owner Richard McWilliam said, "Over the past year, Upper Deck has attempted to negotiate a new licensing deal with NFL Properties. Unfortunately, despite our best efforts, we were not able to reach agreeable terms, and therefore will not be issuing any NFL Properties-licensed trading cards for the 2010 season. Upper Deck will continue to focus on its exclusive license agreement with the Collegiate Licensing Company and co-exclusive agreements with NHL Enterprises and the NHL Players Association, as well as its multiple entertainment licenses.” [18]

In November 2010 Eviction notices were placed on the company's Carlsbad headquarters doors. Employees speculated that the company was over a year late on its rent.

DeWayne BuiceEdit

DeWayne Buice, then a California Angels pitcher, would later become one of Upper Deck's founding partners. In November 1987, Buice walked into The Upper Deck, a trading card store. Store owner Bill Hemrick noticed Buice and the two struck up a friendship, one that led to Buice's hosting an autograph session at the store. Within weeks, Buice had become one of Hemrick's business partners.[19] Hemrick and his partner Paul Sumner were in the process of starting Upper Deck. Unfortunately, the two lacked the business and personal connections to help land the necessary Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) license, which would allow Upper Deck to use players' names and likenesses on its cards. The only response they received was that the players' union was not accepting another card company for three more years. Buice was told that if he could help secure the license, he would receive a 12 percent stake in the card company. Buice would become a key figure in getting MLBPA officials to agree to a meeting. By the end of the 1988 season, Hemrick and Sumner received the license and by 1989, were making baseball cards.[19]

By the time Buice retired from professional baseball at the end of the 1989 season, he had collected $2.8 million from Upper Deck. Believing the company owed him even more money, Buice sued Upper Deck executives. After the battle over Buice's stake in the company was settled in court, he became a millionaire who reportedly made $17 million on the deal, far more than he ever made as a baseball player. In two-and-a-half seasons with the Angels, Buice made $212,500.[20]

Upper Deck was originally scheduled to pay Buice his millions over a four-year period, but due to the 1994 baseball strike, Upper Deck's business stalled. Buice then agreed to a six-year payment plan. Sales in 1995 and 1996 fell so far that for those two years, virtually all the company's profits went to Buice.[19]

On the day in 1998 that Upper Deck cut Buice his final check, the company threw a party at its Carlsbad, California, headquarters. The top brass ordered employees to work just a half day. Later that year at the Christmas party, Upper Deck CEO Richard McWilliam told employees the company's deal with Buice was the worst deal it had ever done.[19]

1989 set and Ken Griffey, Jr.Edit

In the 1989 Upper Deck baseball set, Ken Griffey, Jr. was selected to be featured on card number one.[21] The decision to make Griffey, Jr. the first card was reached in late 1988.

A teenage employee named Tom Geideman was the one who suggested the use of Griffey as its Number one.[22] Traditionally, Topps had a system for reserving various numbers in their sets (such as numbers 1 and 100) for the biggest stars in the game. Geideman decided that a top prospect should be honored with the number one card in the inaugural 1989 set. After reviewing Baseball America, Geideman narrowed the list of candidates to four: Gregg Jefferies of the New York Mets, Gary Sheffield of the Milwaukee Brewers, Sandy Alomar, Jr. of the San Diego Padres, and Ken Griffey, Jr. Geideman was a Mariners fan and decided that Ken Griffey, Jr. should be the prospect featured on card number one of the 1989 set.[21]

At press time, Griffey had not yet played a major league game, so Upper Deck used an image of Griffey in a San Bernardino Spirit uniform.[21] Competitors such as Score and Topps neglected to include a card of Griffey in its regular 1989 set. Both brands would make a card of Griffey in their end of year Traded sets. Such neglect helped Upper Deck gain exposure due to the popularity of Griffey in the 1989 MLB season.

Despite the popularity of the Griffey card, it was not a scarce card. The card was situated in the top left hand corner of the uncut sheets and was more liable to be cut poorly or have its corners dinged. Company policy was that if a customer found a damaged card in its package, the company would replace it.[21] Many Griffey cards were returned and the result was that Upper Deck printed many uncut sheets (sheets consisting of 100 cards) of just Ken Griffey, Jr.[21] According to Professional Sports Authenticator, the Ken Griffey, Jr. would become the most graded card of all time with the company. PSA graded over 50,000 of the cards. The Beckett Grading card service has evaluated over 25,000 of the Ken Griffey, Jr. rookie cards.[21]

High end sports cards and insert setsEdit

Baseball Yankee Stadium LegacyEdit

The Yankee Stadium Legacy set is a 6,742-card compilation chronicling every single game ever played at Yankee Stadium. The card set was manufactured by Upper Deck and made its official debut by being inserted in random packs of Upper Deck's 2008 Series 1 Baseball.[23]

Other cards in the set commemorate some of the most famous sporting events that have taken place at Yankee Stadium. Some of these events include: Lou Gehrig's "Luckiest Man Alive" Speech (July 4, 1939); Babe Ruth's "Final Visit to Yankee Stadium" (June 11, 1948); Joe Louis vs. Max Schmeling heavyweight title bout (June 19, 1936, Schmeling won), the 1958 NFL Championship between the New York Giants and the Baltimore Colts and Muhammad Ali's title defense against Ken Norton (Sept. 28, 1976).

The Guinness World Book of Records will certify The Yankee Stadium Legacy as the largest baseball card set ever produced, once all the cards are released.[24] The official recognition will take place only after all of the 6,500 cards are released in Upper Deck's various baseball card launches throughout the year.[23]

The various sets where the Yankee Stadium Legacy cards were inserted into were: Spectrum; Piece of History; SPx; Upper Deck Series Two; SP Legendary Cuts (Hobby-only); SP Authentic; UDx; and UD Masterpieces. Upper Deck started a website so that collectors could find out more about the Yankee Stadium Legacy set.[25] Alphanumeric codes found on the backs of Yankee Stadium Legacy cards can be entered at the site, and collectors would be able to use the site to manage their collections online, and track their collections against other collectors via a leader board.

Tommy Baxter, a 36-year-old from Little Rock, Arkansas, was the first collector to put together Upper Deck’s Yankee Stadium Legacy (YSL) Collection. Baxter was an avid Cubs fan, and seized the opportunity to become the first collector to piece together the insert set.[26]


Konami - After Upper Deck admitted to counterfeiting cards, the lawsuit was settled out of court.

MLB - filed a federal lawsuit in New York against Upper Deck, accusing the company of trademark infringement and illegally selling cards that feature official team logos and uniforms. The complaint also notes that Upper Deck owes MLB $2.4 million.

See alsoEdit


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