Based on my experience with Digital Cards, I always want to try out as many different applications as possible, as I think many have a unique take on trading cards that are different from some of the more established apps. When e-Pack was first announced, I have to admit, I was skeptical of its potential, if not only because the platform broke from what made digital so attractive in my mind.
Its clear to me now that Upper Deck was just aiming to please the crowd in a way that was more adjacent to the space than I had intially believed. They wanted to find ways to deliver both digital and physical cards at the same time, and try to marry a collecting public that seems divided over its acceptance of the new trends.
I had the chance to talk with Jason Masherah, president of Upper Deck, about e-Pack, and its potential for growth in the marketplace. After reading his responses to my questions, its pretty cool to see the direction they are going and the opportunities they see in the marketplace. Whether traditional collectors like it or not, it looks like more and more competition is entering into the digital card marketplace. If straight digital isnt really up your alley, e-Pack might be the way to go. Even more so if you collect hockey or are a fan of the physical products they have made for many years.
A big thank you to Jason for taking the time to put this together, and also to Chris and team who were a big factor in helping me get access.
Digital Card Central: Thanks for taking the time on this, I know things are busy. In your opinion, what makes Upper Deck e-Pack™ different in your mind from existing digital platforms?
Jason Masherah: Today there are a variety of digital platforms that offer that pack opening experience to collectors, but they fail to truly connect to our hobby because the experience is totally digital. You can’t own the cards you are opening and I feel that is a big problem. You can not duplicate a game-used memorabilia card or limited-edition autograph card in the digital world. Pulling these types of cards is the biggest thrill in the industry and to deprive fans of that experience by delivering these cards only in a digital format was a big miss for me and our team.
The beauty of Upper Deck e-Pack™ is you now have the best of both worlds where you can collect and trade digital cards, but many of them have physical counterparts and there are a variety of physical achievement cards. One of the coolest things about the platform is the image you are seeing of these memorabilia card and autograph cards are actually scans. The patch you see on your card is the actual patch you will receive. If you collect several autographs of the same player, you will notice the subtle differences in the signature on the cards because those are the true images of those cards. Being able to actually take ownership of these cards is the most important aspect of what makes Upper Deck e-Pack™ (www.UpperDeckePack.com) so enticing for collectors. You can actually own the cards you’ve been engaging with on the digital platform.
DCC: I think that’s an interesting perspective, and I dont think I disagree. On that note, give us a peak behind the curtain – what are some things coming down the road that we should be excited about?
JM: I’ve always felt our entertainment releases, particularly for Marvel movies, are incredibly strong and a lot of fun to open. The biggest problem is that not every shop carries them and most fans do not know where to get them. To offer more of these releases on the Upper Deck e-Pack platform is an incredible opportunity to expose these releases to a larger audience, many who do not have a hobby shop nearby or who may not have even realized some of these cards existed. So if you are a fan of non-sports trading card releases, the Upper Deck e-Pack platform is going to offer you a LOT of options very soon.
With regard to other things we will be releasing on the Upper Deck e-Pack platform this year, I can tell you that I don’t think anyone will be able to anticipate some of the other offerings we have coming up to the platform. The truth of the matter is that Upper Deck e-Pack™ isn’t a product and it is bigger than an app; it is a very robust online marketplace. We are going to use the power of this platform to deliver experiences that have never been offered in this hobby, or many others, before. It’s going to be a lot of fun to watch.
DCC: What drew you to Check Out My Cards (COMC) and Dynamics as partners?
JM: One thing that our former owner and CEO Richard McWilliam taught me was to really focus on what Upper Deck does well which is being innovative, putting out quality products and delivering customers an authentic experience that brings them closer to what they love. He also taught me to understand and appreciate what your weaknesses are and not to be afraid to ask for help.
Upper Deck is not set up to warehouse trading cards, and scan them and ship them out to fans at the scale we knew we needed to for e-Pack to be successful. Check Out My Cards however is an established and recognized leader in that space. I had some preliminary conversations with the head of COMC; Tim Getsch about what we were looking to do. He was excited and nervous, but as we talked more, we were both confident that together we could deliver an incredible experience to our fans.
Then we looked to a partner to help us with much of the front-end experience that could also be a trusted and secure partner to ensure that the breaks are fair and accurate. We looked to partner with Dynamics Inc. who we had worked with previously on some of their credit card loyalty programs. They are innovating the banking industry and it was clear to us they would be an incredible partner in bringing the Upper Deck e-Pack platform to life, especially because their CEO Jeff Mullen is an avid card collector himself.
Bringing in these two great partners allowed us to do what we do best in producing the world’s best trading cards thus allowing them to focus on their strengths. The end result is an awesome platform and experience for collectors that will continue to evolve with exciting new functionality and offerings at www.UpperDeckePack.com.
DCC: I like that you are partnering with these types of companies, especially ones that are run by collectors themselves. Speaking of that, collectors seem to split on what digital brings to the hobby. What do you see as a challenge for the medium as a whole? What is Upper Deck doing to ensure that it won’t be an issue?
With digital trading card programs, the collector doesn’t truly own anything which is a major problem. We recently saw this issue transpire on a massive level with the trading card game: Marvel War of Heroes. The company did not get their license renewed and the players lost the entire collections of trading cards overnight. This could happen on any of the digital only programs at any time because licenses change throughout time.
Because our products are tied to physical cards, we protect our collectors by making Upper Deck e-Pack a platform where fans could buy, trade and store their trading cards. When a collector buys a pack, box or case on e-Pack, they own those physical cards. Should any licensing changes occur, our fans will be able to retain their collections and cards on the e-Pack platform. With other digital-only products, the collector could lose their entire collection based on a licensing change or a company’s decision to no longer support an app.
DCC: Losing a collection is something that has been brought up on twitter a few times, and I know that there are people out there concerned with that aspect – especially with how volatile the licensing market is today. Speaking of licensing, the NHL is an exclusive partner of Upper Deck, what have been their feelings on e-Pack as a delivery method of physical cards and new way to collect?
JM: I think it would be better if you heard from the NHL® on this. Here’s what Dave McCarthy, the vice-president of Consumer Products Marketing for the NHL had to say about Upper Deck e-Pack:
”We applaud Upper Deck’s vision to create this innovative new way for fans and collectors to buy, collect and trade NHL® hockey trading cards. This complimentary channel is serving the digital age consumer who is tech savvy and enjoys the thrill of opening a pack of cards in this new and exciting way.”
DCC: Upper Deck has stated that they feel hobby shops can benefit from e-Pack. I’m among the people who see this as more of a threat. Talk about how you feel hobby shops should look at the new platform.
JM: I totally understand how hobby shops can feel threatened by these digital platforms. Whenever a new initiative comes down the pipe from manufacturers in particular, especially in the digital realm, it is scary for shops. I remember when e-Bay came out and shop owners saw it as a sign of the apocalypse. In time however, many learned how to use e-Bay as a tool to help their business and to quickly realize the true value of collectibles.
The bottom line is that no company is as focused on seeing our hobby shop partners succeed like Upper Deck. I owned a hobby shop. Our Vice-President of Sales owned a hobby shop. We see and value the service they provide and their role in this industry. That being said, there is not a hobby shop in every town, especially in Canada and Europe. As I heard stories about collectors driving an hour or more to get free hockey packs on National Hockey Card Day, I realized more than ever that we need a platform like Upper Deck e-Pack to reach more fans and expose them to the hobby.
Additionally, hobby shops are not open 24-hours a day. Right now we are seeing the peak times on e-Pack are from 8:00 p.m. – 6:00 a.m. We live in a world today when consumers want something, they want it now. To meet the needs of our customers and today’s consumer landscape, it was critical to develop a platform like Upper Deck e-Pack™ and we are seeing the value in it by the high engagement rates of users.
Our goal is to primarily reach fans that do not have a hobby shop nearby with e-Pack, but to also serve as a complimentary option to fans who want to open packs of cards anytime, anywhere. If you are looking to open a few packs to decompress before bed, Upper Deck e-Pack is there. If you are on a long flight for work or pleasure, it’s awesome to be able to make trades at 20,000 feet from your Wi-Fi enabled device.
There are several things we are doing to protect our hobby shops and make them the first options for collectors to think of when it comes to purchasing Upper Deck products that are also offered on e-Pack.
- We have staggered the release date to allow hobby shops that window of having the product first for at least two weeks and oftentimes much longer.
- We are being true to pricing on the front end and charging a pulling fee on the back end to make sure shop prices are very competitive.
- There is a dealer locator on the Upper Deck e-Pack
- We have issued e-mail blasts about hobby exclusive products to this audience.
- We have shared news information about what’s new in the shop to help drive traffic there.
- We have ramped up the exclusive hobby content where in 2015-16 NHL® Ultimate Collection for example, the rookie autograph shield cards are exclusively in the physical hobby release.
- We have started a hobby shop advisory board to work with shops on options for them to share what will help them with this platform.
- We will be debuting two new programs this year that will also help shops leverage the power of Upper Deck e-Pack to drive traffic and awareness to their business.
Additionally, it is not just about what we are doing to help shops, it is about what we are NOT doing that will help them as well. Upper Deck does not advertise the e-Pack platform in any of our physical releases. We do not advertise the e-Pack platform at hobby-focused shows like the Nationals Sports Collectors Convention or the Sportcard & Memorabilia Expo. Additionally, many of our advertising efforts target areas that do not have shops nearby.
DCC: If there is one thing you want physical collectors to know about e-Pack, what would it be?
JM: I think the coolest things about Upper Deck e-Pack is that it really solves the issue of storage for your collection in many cases. To be able to store thousands of physical cards at COMC and be able to see them and show them off from your phone is really awesome. One of the biggest complaints I hear from collectors is how they just have no more room to store their collections. Upper Deck e-Pack really solves those concerns.
DCC: For those newbies out there, what suggestions would you have about getting involved with e-Pack on a beginner level?
JM: I would recommend with just getting started opening some of the daily free packs. There are different digital packs available every day for FREE at www.UpperDeckePack.com. As you get your feet wet with that, check out the forums and make some trades. Once you get confidence in navigating the platform, you’ll be ready to make a purchase on a product you are most interested in.
One thing that really is great is how friendly many collectors are. We run a #TradingTuesdays promotion on our @UpperDeckHockey Twitter page and it’s fun to see Upper Deck e-Pack users help each other out with regard to getting items for their personal collections. The support from fans in the community is really strong.
DCC: Any parting thoughts for the readers of this post?
JM: Consumers in general are changing. We all expect to do just about everything from our computer or from our phone. The world is quickly evolving and our industry needs to evolve as well.
The biggest challenge the trading card industry faces is bringing back lapsed collectors or creating new collectors. Digital trading card products are creating new collectors but unlike what our competitors are doing, we are focused on teaching these collectors how to collect physical cards, educating them on the nuances of our hobby and then graduating them to brick and mortar only products like SP Authentic, UD Premier and The Cup.
As mentioned above, big thanks to the e-Pack and Upper Deck team for the time spent on this interview. More content to come on e-Pack in the future, as I feel like they are poised to do some really good things in the trading card and digital card market.