Most baseball collectors know that baseball cards today are produced by Topps and Upper Deck. This is also generally true across most sports. The sports card industry wasn’t always a monopoly and was a billion dollar industry. In an attempt to limit the saturated sports card market, MLB canceled their license with Donruss/Playoff in 2006. Just before that, Fleer went bankrupt and was bought out by Upper Deck. The reasoning behind MLB not renewing their contract with Donruss was weak at best. How is cutting of Donruss completely off, while allowing Upper Deck to produce new lines of product reducing a saturated market? All they did is cut one company off and allow another to produce more, further solidifying Upper Deck’s monopoly.

Then there is In the Game, a small Canadian company that produces hockey cards. The NHL has consistently denied the company a license to produce NHL cards and they are forced to produce minor league and retired NHL cards. In the Game will find it hard to grow producing card for such a limited market.

There is a sports card monopoly with Topps and Upper Deck across the board. Upper Deck buying Fleer and then releasing products under the Fleer name may fool some, but not the savvy collector. Consolidation in the industry has not been good for card collectors. When there is a monopoly in any industry the consumer suffers due to high prices and companies lack of new innovations. There was a point when Upper Deck was new to the sports card industry, and they opened eyes with a pack that was expensive at $1 a pack. Today the cheapest pack you will find is around $3 with the average pack around $5-$20 and as high as several hundred dollars.

The sports card industry needs to be more open and Upper Deck and Topps need to let go of their monopoly or the future of the sports card industry will continue to suffer. At one time the sports card industry was a $1.2 billion industry. Today, the industry continues to decline and is about 1/6 the size of that peak.

What is the solution to this decline? First, the sports card industry must make their product more appealing to the youth. This is extremely challenging considering today’s youth are more interested in Play Station 3 and Xbox video games than collecting cards. Today, a typical box of cards costs more than a new Xbox/PS3 video game. Having just a few companies to choose from ensures prices will stay high and out of reach of the youngest collectors.

Second, the professional sports organizations needs to open up their licenses to qualified card producers. This is key since sports card producers are completely reliant on the professional leagues and player associations. The more companies that produce high quality sports cards, the more downward pressure on prices there will be. At one time there was an open market that allowed Upper Deck to burst into the sports card industry and forced innovation. Upper Deck was the first company to produce a $1 pack of cards, autographed cards, and for the first time in 10 years got licenses with all the major professional sports to include racing.

Now, Topps and Upper Deck have closed the door on an open market and we may never see another company enter the market like Upper Deck did in 1989. If the sports card industry refuses to change, the market will continue to slide and become obsolete with a single company producing cards and dictating all prices.