By Andrew Long aka Samuwry7

You know the kind– belly spasming, knees weak, face stretched to its limits, swimming in tears and delirium, desperately trying to hold onto the surface of the earth. It’s the very best kind of laughing. On a perfect California day in 2009, this was us, my very good friend Nik and me, emerging from the Upper Deck store, surrendering our composure to our own incredulity, the irony of it all, our sheer dumb luck. We were walking away with with nearly fifteen hundred bucks worth of 2009 SP Legendary Cuts Baseball and 2009-10 O-Pee-Chee Premier hockey, for which we hadn’t paid a single red cent. Two months earlier, Nik and I entered the first SportsCardForum.com video contest. And it was the result of this contest, which, given our rather remarkable luck and armful of hobby prizes, now seemed perfectly ludicrous.

We lost.

In the days following our loss, I was sour. As far as I was concerned, first prize for the video contest, a $100 gift certificate to CardsbytheBox.com, had been awarded to a breakthrough cure for insomnia. Yet today I can hardly begrudge the victor, since second place video yielded a much better prize– this simple message, sent to Nik’s youtube account a short time after the contest:

Packs to the People”
I thought this was awesome. Let me know if you want me to sponsor you packs for future episodes. I’d be willing to do it around a new release like 2009 MLB UD2 or 2009 NFL Draft Edition. Let me know your thoughts. In the meantime, I’m going to put you guys up on our Diamond Vision site. Great work.

Sincerely,

Chris Carlin
Sports Marketing Manager
The Upper Deck Company

http://youtu.be/3Vbl3u5bLYs

I almost exploded. Nik and I had drawn the attention of one of the premier card manufacturers in the world. When that message finally fruited into those sponsored boxes of Sp Legendary Cuts and O-Pee-Chee Premier, and our hysterical near-meltdown outside the Upper Deck store, I was so happy about what was happening, I didn’t really consider why it was happening, or the significance of it. We had done something new, though at that time, it wasn’t really clear to me what that thing was.

Our tremendous armfuls of boxes did come a price– we had to use them make two more videos. The O-Pee-Chee Premier presented us with a new challenge. Our previous video, “Pack Break Missionary,” involved us approaching everyday people on the street and asking them to break a pack of cards on camera. People would break packs, and I’d react to it. With OPC Premier, we couldn’t do that, being that each pack of the stuff cost around $200, and we only had four of them. The concept started at first as a group of words in my head, words that sounded dramatic and exciting. I had this phrase stuck in my head, and I kept rolling the words around thinking about how I could integrate the packs of O-Pee-Chee Premier. The words were simply “hunt a live human being.” A few days later, I was on my knees in Huntington Park, bound and gagged, with a bag over my head, and one of my very best friends in the world was caressing my face with a knife. I’m sure at some point, as my hot breath filled up the bag, I asked myself, “how did collecting sports cards ever get me here?” The video used the packs of O-Pee-Chee Premier with great effect, and Nik and I were tremendously proud of the result, which you can see below.

http://youtu.be/0UvVugQJipY

Now, making that video was no easy task. There’s about 20 hours of work in that video. Even more was spent in our next video, a return to the format of our original contest entry. Upper Deck rightly suggested we call it “Packs to the People,” since that’s what people seemed to remember. We spent three 6-hour sessions on the street asking people to break packs. It was tough. Cameras scare people. Many were resistant, the idea being so foreign to them that it surely must be a scam, that the footage of them flipping through a pack of baseball cards would be twisted into porn and distributed to their closest relatives. After the second day, the incredible blessing of Upper Deck sponsorship now felt like a check we had written to Upper Deck, and were now struggling to cover. A full half case had been provided so that we’d hit a cut, but filming through the half case a pack at a time, searching for this cut, was gruelling. By the time we finished the entire video, the cards we’d received hardly felt like enough for all the work.

Though video was the medium we were working in, the value of these pieces, I realized, was applying a narrative to the process of card collecting. In my opinion, one of the great weaknesses of the hobby as a whole is the imbalanced emphasis on the what, rather than the how. How people have come to collect things should be valued and explored through narrative, for the benefit and growth of the entire hobby. In a time of economic decline, collectors are backing off breaking boxes, seeing that the value of the singles pulled hardly compares to box prices. The value isn’t there. To combat this, I think more narrative devices have to be applied to the process of collecting, to renew interest and stoke box breaking in general. We need videos, stories, podcasts– the more the better. Stories are what interest people, and that intrigue is a viable way to bring more people into the hobby. Breaking is the fire point for all collecting, and it must happen. The more of it, the better! What needs to transform is the mindset for why. If we can compete, looking for not only the most extraordinary cards, but the most extraordinary experiences in attaining them, we boost profit for card companies, who can in turn afford to add more value back in the boxes. The cycle improves, all through the power of storytelling. Upper Deck’s sponsorship ultimately took me places where I never thought I could go, and made me see the hobby, enjoy the hobby, in a whole new way.