by Richard McAdam (aka RGM81) and Sean McCafferty (aka 30ranfordfan)

On January 6, 2012, In The Game President Dr. Brian Price participated in a chat session with members of SCF. Though the initial impetus for Dr. Price reaching out to SCF to have a discussion was the controversy surrounding the upcoming release of ITG Enforcers (for more information about the product, see the official preview here the chat was a wide-ranging affair that covered many bases and shed some interesting light on a variety of topics relevant to collectors.

On Enforcers

With all the media hubbub created over the product, which features blood-splattered designs and famous fight scenes, Enforcers was thrust into the spotlight. It was originally billed as The Toughest Set Ever Created, and like many ITG products, it drew from the input and feedback provided by collectors. There are many hobbyists that collect cards of their favoured enforcers, players that are admired for their toughness and physical play. Others, who have tragically lost their lives, are collected as a sign of the respect that the collector has for that individual who lost his life due to difficult circumstances. Nobody that collects such dearly departed players like Wade Belak or Bob Probert would view Enforcers in a negative light or think that their deaths were being exploited. This is not even the first ITG product that spotlights players who have graduated from the school of hard knocks. Dr. Price addressed the inspiration for Enforcers, stating, “We did Tough Customers a number of years ago and since then collectors have been emailing me to do another project.” There was no mass outcry at the time of that event, yet a handful of opportunistic and politically ambitious people, seeking to capitalize on the emerging trend against violence in hockey, suddenly showed up in the media decrying the product.

One of the most prominent people to publicly distance himself from Enforcers was Georges Laraque. This was very surprising to Dr. Price, who stated in the chat, “Yes, 100%. Georges signed an agreement with us, he was paid and he had no artistic approval rights in his agreement. Furthermore, he knew the nature of the product was enforcers and he talked to our staff about his four toughest fights during the negotiations.” This follows a trend with Laraque in recent months, who tends to follow whichever direction the political winds are blowing. Surprisingly, he has not yet condemned the Hollywood film Goon, in which he himself makes a cameo appearance as, you guessed it, an enforcer. A photo of Laraque in full “goon” mode appears on Dr. Price’s blog, which can be found at http://prezsez.wordpress.com . He also has a special thanks for Laraque, saying, “Enforcers was going to be a niche product until Georges Laraque caused such a fuss. Now I’m really looking forward to it.”

The media firestorm and public condemnation from people like Laraque, however, has certainly not dampened collectors’ interest in Enforcers. Price says that the media hype actually had a very positive effect on sales, stating, “Sales to the general, non-collecting public have been great. We think the product will be sold-out at release date which is incredible at this time in our hobby.” While the opposing forces to Enforcers sought to squelch the product, they in fact seem to have only heightened the passion of fans to collect the cards of players that do not often receive a lot of hobby attention from the other companies. The players themselves seemed to be pretty receptive to the project, as Dr. Price claims a very high rate of response from those that the company reached out to when at the conceptual stage for Enforcers, “We sit in a room and put out a list of players we want for a project and then go out and get them. Some of the Enforcers we wanted for the project did not respond to us, we took that as a “no” but we got over 90% of those we wanted for this particular project.” When you factor in that ITG does not have the benefit of a licensing agreement, and has to make individual contracts with every player to appear on the cards, that is no small feat. The checklist for the set is very impressive and covers players from many eras. We look forward to seeing many breaks of the product around the boards!

On Licensing Issues

As collectors are well aware, In The Game has not had a license with the NHL or NHLPA since the lockout season of 2004-05 ended. Since then ITG has continued to make hockey cards by signing agreements with individual players, and by signing agreements with other hockey leagues like the CHL & AHL.

Dr. Price shared his frustrations revolving around the post-lockout exclusive signed by Ted Saskin at the NHLPA, and Upper Deck –shutting him out from the opportunity to continue to make NHL licensed trading cards, in particular the fact that an outstanding redemption program from 03-04 season was unable to be completed.

Adding to the licensing issues, Dr. Price also talked about ITG’s loss of a license for Team Canada, and the impossibility of acquiring one for Team USA.

In The Game has recently branched out into baseball as well, releasing a Heroes & Prospects set (similar to their annual hockey release) but no MLB or PA license should be expected in the near future.

Masked Men III Emeralds
Another topic that came up on a number of occasions was the unfortunate error on the 2010-11 Between The Pipes Masked Men III Emerald inserts. These cards were supposed to be numbered to 340, but due to a printing error the cards were all stamped as 1/1’s. This created an initial wave of excitement for surprised collectors, until they saw two or three or four other people also pulling that same “1-of-1” card. At the time, Dr. Price immediately took to hobby sites such as SCF to clarify what he characterized as a “debacle,” and announced that the company would seek a remedy to the situation. He reflects on that mistake now as “One of my worst days in the hobby was the day of the release when I found out we made that error.” It was eventually decided that there would be two programs: for Program A, collectors would send in 17 cards of a player and receive a special redemption card numbered to 10 in return; for Program B, collectors would send in 17 random MMIII Emerald cards and receive a random special redemption card numbered to 20 in return.

As is customary with ITG, Dr. Price sought to “do whatever I possibly could to make a terrible situation a little better” for collectors. He explained the process of deciding what to do as follows: “We waited until an Expo to canvass collectors and see what they thought we could do to make up for our error and then the redemption program was developed. Once I saw the number of redemptions I felt that using patches where possible would be the right thing to do. I know as a collector, I would have appreciated it after the error and the time and money it took to collect 17 cards.” Speaking as a collector that has participated in the program, I can say with great assurance that Dr. Price went far above and beyond “a little better.” I recently received my Carey Price redemption card and it is truly a masterpiece on cardboard. Other collectors have also been receiving their redemption cards in recent weeks, and the effort level undertaken by ITG has been truly fantastic.

Biggest Accomplishments & Regrets.

Dr. Price was asked by a member to name what he felt were his three biggest accomplishments and three biggest regrets in the industry. He waited for a while before answering the question, to give himself time to reflect. It was certainly interesting to hear what he was basically describing as the highlights and lowlights of a company with a 20+ year history in the hobby.

The first accomplishment was the licensing of the Parkhurst name to Pro Set back in the early 1990s. After purchasing the Parkhurst brand himself, Dr. Price did not initially get the NHL / PA license he desired. He was able to come to a licensing agreement that let Texas based Pro Set use his Parkhurst name, and bring the historic brand back into the hobby. Having them agree to individually number cases, it was the first occasion where collectors were actually able to know how limited a production run was.

The second accomplishment was the subsequent licensing of the Parkhurst name to Upper Deck. After Pro Set went under, and still without a licensing agreement of his own, Dr. Price was able to work with Upper Deck to continue use of the Parkhurst name. Part of that deal was for the release of three retrospective hockey card products: The Missing Link, Tall Boys, and The Bobby Orr Rookie Year. They remain among Dr. Price’s favorite sets today.

The third, and final, accomplishment mentioned was the direct relationship Dr. Price has built with over 1,500 hockey players over the years. The friendships, the stories, and the family feeling at ITG are what he credits the company’s success on.

The first regret mentioned was the previously discussed loss of an NHL/PA license, and what a blow to both the company and collectors that really was.

Second, Dr. Price mentioned his loss of working with Gordie Howe. It was Dr. Price who brought Mr. Hockey back into the hobby in the 1990s, and says that he had a great working relationship with the entire Howe family. Eventually Gordie’s business affairs were being run by someone outside the family, and before long an exclusive deal with Upper Deck was signed. Since the chat, we’ve learned that Dr. Price has been able to bring Gordie Howe back to ITG products. Knowing how disappointed he was by the initial loss of working with Howe, I can only imagine how exciting this was for ITG.

Finally, the third regret mentioned was last year’s epic mistake with the Emerald Masked Men cards in Between The Pipes. As already mentioned, cards limited to 340 copies were all mistakenly stamped 1/1. It was an embarrassing situation for In The Game, and one that Dr. Price still feels awful about.
Lots of suggestions

With the opportunity to chat with one of the few people on the planet who does have the power to add your favorite player to the checklist of set, Dr. Price certainly fielded many suggestions and requests for specific players, and themes, to be included in future releases. Among the many requests were Hall-of-Famer Silas ‘Si’ Griffis, Zach Kassian, Phil Kessel, Dale Hawerchuk, Josh Georges, the use of Skate Blades for memorabilia cards, cards depicting some of the most famous Referees, General Managers, Coaches, and Arenas.

The Captain-C

Dr. Price also spent a few moments to talk about the next ‘hits’ style release from ITG. Few details are available yet, but product information can be found on the ITG website Once Enforceres and Heroes & Prospects are out – ITG will be releasing a new set called ‘The Captain-C’. Due out in March, this new product will feature nothing but players who have been the Captain of their team.. Sounds to be a great assortment of Autographs & Memorabilia and names players like Dave Keon, Bobby Clarke, Jean Beliveau and Roberto Luongo as being included in the set.

We had a great couple of hours chatting with Dr. Price. Was a lot of fun to hear about some of the exciting things going on at ITG, and I know the members that had the chance to participate really appreciated Dr. Price’s willingness to join us like that. I know I’m looking forward to next time!

(A full transcript of the chat, should anyone be interested, is available here)