By Karine Hains, Editor-in-Chief

As avid card collectors, we spend considerable amounts of money on buying the various products on offer. Depending on which sport takes your fancy, you have different choices of brands and different companies producing the cards. If you are a hockey fan, since the end of the lock-out in 2005-2006, your only choice for licensed product is Upper Deck. What are the implications of such a monopoly in the hockey market? Is Upper Deck charging hockey fans more for their cards as they are not in direct competition with anyone else? No not really, prices seem to follow the same curve as in other sports. However, is the quality of the cards produced up to a high standard? Well I came across a website which makes me think that it isn’t…Can the same be said about the customer service? It may well be the case…

What do I mean by quality? Well, picture this: you just went a bit crazy and purchased a tin of the holy grail of hockey cards, The Cup. Of course, you are incredibly excited and hope to pull something which will go straight in your personal collection. So, full of hope and anticipation, you crack the tin open to reveal a pack of cards and how wonderful, there is a signature patch of Luc Robitaille in there! Being a Kings fan you are amazed by your luck but then, you notice that the card features a Washington Capitals patch?!?  He didn’t even play for them…it’s bad enough when they mismatch the swatch and the uniform in which the player is pictured but when he never even played for the team the swatch belongs to it is inexcusable.

You want another example? Say you are a player collector and are determined to get every single card of your collection’s focus. Well, if you collect Adam Dennis, a Buffalo Sabres goaltender, I am afraid that you will need to acquire a young guns rookie card picturing Adam Berkhoel. This type of error is quite frequent and I dare to say that it is almost a lack of respect to the athlete who should be depicted on the card. You want to argue that this doesn’t happen with big stars? Well, is Billy Smith enough of a big name for you? His Artifacts autofact featured his signature on a Chico Resch picture. So no, it’s not just the players who have yet to make their mark. Of course, this could be avoided if the autograph was hard signed as I very much doubt that a player would sign someone else’s card.

                                              

Speaking of autographs, is it too much to ask for them to be the right way around on the card? It seems that it is in certain cases… While I will agree that in some cases it can be hard to identify top from bottom (please see exhibit A below – Marian Hossa), it becomes quite easy when the player is nice enough to put is number at the end of the autograph. Admire the upside down 34 on this Many Legace card or this clearly upside down Cam Nelly autograph which is even more unforgivable as you can actually read his name!

        

How about the set builders? Are they safe and sound collecting the base sets? They should be right? Most of those do not include piece of jerseys or autograph so it would be hard to make mistakes on these… Well it just so happens that numbering errors are also possible… Case in point: the 2006-2007 Black Diamond set, if you look at the two pictures below, you will realize that there are two different cards which were given the number 164 in the set. It can be hard enough for collectors to finish a set without worrying about whether card 164 is the only card 164 there is.

  

All these errors were spotted and reported on a website dedicated to Upper Deck’s most glaring errors. You can see the site here: http://vegaspuck.blogspot.com/ . I strongly suggest that you visit it for more hilarious mistakes.

Unfortunately, the comedy of errors does not stop at the card production. The handling of redemptions or replacements also provides us with plenty of horror stories and so does some pack breaks.  When a product is released, most collectors are keen to find out what the checklist includes not only in term of players but also in terms of redemptions as many of us dread seeing the white piece of cardboard inscribed with “Congratulations”. Yes, Upper Deck has made some progress in this field with its online program. However, what happens when someone hijacks your account online and changes your address and password? The result is, you cannot get into your account anymore and you therefore cannot see where the cards have been sent. Surely an added layer of security to change the address linked to each account would not be too much to ask…It is rather upsetting to find out that someone is stealing your redemptions and that you cannot do anything about it.

On the replacement fronts, I have heard plenty of stories in which a damaged card was sent in and while Upper Deck acknowledged the fact that a replacement was needed, the letter they sent back did not include the promised replacement card(s)/pack(s). This is hardly good for customer satisfaction. Not only is the customer upset about pulling a damaged card but they also have to spend money on shipping them back to the company only to get a letter back on its own without enclosing the promised compensation. In one instance, one of our members, Allan Armacost Jr (AquaholicFishing) sent in a damaged card by insured shipping after being assured by the customer service department that replacements for the cards were available. However, when he got a package back, it only included a letter stating that he was indeed entitled to a replacement which would have to be packs as they did not have any spares of the card sent back in. At least they offered something right? Yes but they did not include the said pack in the package. After his experience, Allan said: “I’m so angry right now that I’m not sure I will be spending any money on cards for the next few months”.

Finally, you have probably noticed that on the packaging of all of its products, Upper Deck includes the odds of getting the so called “hits”. However, they take care to specify that these are only odds, adding the all important “on average” expression. Evidently, this means that some boxes will be below average, some will be deemed “hot boxes” and others will be just that, average. If you invest money on one box, well you are gambling really, nothing guarantees that you will get at least the average… If you decide to buy a bigger quantity, like a case, you probably think that you will have better odds of hitting the said average but this is not the case unfortunately.

Another one of our members; Mike Bartlett (No1RiceGuy) got himself a case 08-09 Legends Masterpiece or in other words 15 boxes.  For this product, the stated average is “Four memorabilia or signature cards per box”. Once he had opened eight he said this: “So out of eight boxes, only one has met the advertised hits ratio. So you tell me, would you be happy with this stuff?” After opening all the boxes, he realized that he only met the average in one box, leaving him with 14 boxes below average. Considering how much money a case costs, this is in my view, absolutely unacceptable.

I am not sure if the situation would be any better if Upper Deck was not the sole producer of licensed product in the hockey department but it does seem like it could potentially help. If you have information about other sports and can either confirm or contradict my theory, please let me know!