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A Conversation With Upper Deck - March 18, 2008

logo for Upper Deck All-Star VinylsSince the start of 2008, Upper Deck has released information about a variety of new product lines. We've heard about 6" realistic figures called Pro-Shots. We've also heard about 12" versions of the Pro-Shot figures called Pro-Shot Ultimates. More recently, Upper Deck announced preliminary information about MVPs, smaller vinyl figures that show artistic renditions of NFL team mascots. Finally, we've been teased with the suggestion that there will be mini versions of the All-Star Vinyl figures.

With all the new lines there are questions, opinions, speculations . . . how will the Pro-Shots compare to McFarlane's Sports Picks? How is Upper Deck able to do figures of Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods when McFarlane can't? What figures will be released as mini-ASVs? How exclusive will the new 12" figures be? How will all this affect the current All-Star Vinyl line and the Platinum Club?

Dave Sanders, Upper Deck's Product Manager for Sports & Entertainment Figures, was kind enough to provide the following answers to these and many other questions regarding the various sports action figure lines from Upper Deck.

There seems to be a lot of confusion coming from the different product lines coming from Upper Deck. Besides the ASVs as we know them today, there's talk of smaller ASVs, the Pro-Shots, 12" versions of the Pro-Shots . . . what can you say about what the different lines will be?

Our Fall lineup will consist of the Pro-Shots 6-inch figure retail and hobby lines, the Pro-Shots Ultimate 12-inch polyresin statues, a new configuration of All-Star Vinyl in a smaller size and more retail friendly prize point, MVPs-the new team art figure we sneak peeked a few weeks ago, and Quarter Kicks, a miniature collectible shoe model project we've been working on with Nike and Brand Jordan over the last 2 years. Our goal has been to bring new ideas and concepts to the sports figure category while focusing on exclusive athletes that only Upper Deck can bring to the table.

Michael Jordan Pro Shots Figure #1 Prototype
Michael Jordan Pro-Shots figure #1 Prototype.

Some Pro-Shots questions: In terms of final product look, size, quality and style, how will the Pro-Shots compare to McFarlanes? If I'm looking at a Pro-Shot sitting next to a Sports Pick, what will the similarities and differences be?

The goal of the Pro-Shots line is to deliver our exclusive athletes Jordan, Tiger, and Ali in the popular scale, quality, and look that 6-inch figure collectors have long been waiting for. McFarlane makes a great product and our goal is that the line will deliver the level of quality that sports figure collectors have come to expect. This is why we enlisted Gentle Giant Studios to sculpt and we've also secured one of the top figure manufacturers overseas to produce the line for us that produces similar figs in the marketplace.

To accomplish this on the development side, we are also using facial and equipment scans of Jordan and Tiger. The figure sculpts go through extensive rounds of approvals with each athlete and their representation. I've seen a few board posts where people have questioned the likeness on a couple of the figures, which I find pretty odd since we are using face scans as the basis of the sculpting, but I understand from the photography. Both the '85 Jordan and the '00 Tiger are challenging poses to capture correctly on film. However, in person the figures look great and I think collectors will be quite happy with the end product when they see it in stores.

For the product line as a whole, how will it differ from Sports Picks? Should we expect to see several series per year by sport, with various players, as we do with Sports Picks? Or will the player selection be more exclusive, with more versions of a few players? How many players do you think will be featured each year?

Our focus is building in-depth series of figures featuring Jordan, Tiger, and Ali in various moments throughout their careers. When you look at all of Jordan's classic shots and championships, Tiger's numerous Majors, and Ali's historic achievements, we feel there is enough product content for each series to continue for some time. New waves (2 figures) of each athlete will be rolled out approximately every 3 months, so collectors will be able to build and follow the series over time.

There is always the chance that we would offer other legendary athletes in the future, but if so, it would be on an exclusive basis. We don't plan to expand the line into league-wide series as this is something that McFarlane already offers. We feel what we bring to the table that is unique is our relationships with the most iconic athletes of all time. The other difference on a product level is the ability to include Upper Deck trading cards with each retail release. I think this will also bring an additional collectibility and excitement to the line.

There is a lot of talk regarding why McFarlane has never done a Michael Jordan. Some have said that licensing costs would force McFarlane to sell Jordan figures for $50 each, or would have to release many, many different poses just to cover those costs. (As they did with Gretzky.) Can you explain how exclusivity plays into your being able to release Jordan and Woods figures while McFarlane has not?

There are definitely a lot of misconceptions floating around regarding licensing of Jordan and other Upper Deck athletes for figures. We have exclusive long term deals with Jordan and Tiger for a full portfolio of collectible products and memorabilia. Athletes like to work with Upper Deck because of the wide range of products and services we offer them, not just a one-off deal for figures or a specific collectible category. For another company to be able to release a figure of our exclusive athletes, they would have to approach us for a sub-license.

We have been approached before, but with us now moving into the sports figure category, we feel we can offer more to collectors and our athletes by doing it ourselves over the long haul. Regarding Jordan figs from other companies having to cost $50 for it to work licensing-wise, this simply isn't the case and is definitely blown out of proportion.

Alternate Version - Michael Jordan Pro-Shots Figure from Upper Deck
As shown in this artist rendition, alternate uniforms will be used for the hobby versions of the Pro-Shots figures.

We know the Pro-Shots will have retail (TRU) and hobby versions, and the two versions will have different color uniforms. What other differences will there be between the two versions? Packaging? Edition sizes? UD has included special collector cards with other figures in the past - will retail or hobby versions of the figure include cards?

The retail version of Pro-Shots will feature a clear acetate display box that displays the figure in a nice diorama type layout from the actual moment, and also displays the matching collector card prominently. The hobby version does not include the card and is packaged in a smaller clamshell similar to figures you see in the marketplace. In regard to the edition sizes for each version, we don't plan to publish them. However, based on the retail version being exclusive to one retailer, this automatically makes it very limited versus figures you see out there that are carried by multiple retailers. Similarly on the hobby version, with it only being offered to hobby-type accounts and stores, they will be quite limited as well in relations to other figures out there.

How often will new Pro-Shots come out?

New waves of Pro-Shots (2 figures per athlete series) will roll-out at retail and hobby about every three months or so after the first releases.

I've read on the forum some complaints about not getting info about Pro-Shots out to Platinum Club members . . . this confused me a bit because Pro-Shots are a completely different product line than ASVs, and therefore wouldn't be considered part of the benefits extended to PC members. I know you've posted some info there as a courtesy to PC members, but ultimately, will the Pro-Shots collectors have their own club and/or message forum?

We are planning to launch a new larger figure site in the Fall that will cover each of our lines. Rather than an individual club for Pro-Shots, it is likely that we would offer an overall UD figure club that supports each of our lines.

So you anticipate one forum for all the various figures . . . how will the Platinum Club fit into this? Will the Platinum Club be a members-only club for all the various figures lines?

We haven’t determined all of the details of the new site yet, but there would most likely be a forum to discuss each of our upcoming lines. We are still determining what type of club we’ll offer next year. There’s a chance the club may transition into an overall UD sports figure club, rather than just ASV.

The retail Pro-Shots are depictions of memorable moments from the athletes' careers. That would mean that to be historically accurate, only one uniform combination would be possible. How does UD plan to address this with regards to the hobby variants in different uniforms?

On the retail versions, the packaging and card celebrate that particular moment by including the actual photos and some historical text explaining the moment. On the hobby side, the figures are treated more just like stand alone figures without reference to any particular moment. To keep them authentic to their various eras, we do some research to make sure the uniforms and shoes are swapped correctly so that for instance the hobby version of the '85 Jordan features him in the Bulls alternate white uniform and alternate color Air Jordans. Similar on Tiger, we find reference images from the same tournament or year to change out his clothing to. We have something unique in mind on the Ali figures for the hobby line, which we can't reveal yet as we are still in approvals.

Prototype of Tiger Woods 2 Pro-Shots Figure from Upper Deck
Tiger Woods Pro-Shots figure #2 prototype.

Regarding the new 12" figures in the works - can you give any ballpark estimates on edition sizes, prices, packaging or `how these will be sold?

The 12" line is called Pro-Shots Ultimate(s) and fittingly we are working with one of the top manufacturers that produces similar resin statues for the entertainment licensed collectibles category. While we are still finalizing a few details, they will likely retail for $149.99, similar to other large statues in the marketplace from licenses like Star Wars and Marvel. They will likely be limited to 2,000 pieces or less which should help protect their value and collectibility over time. They won't be released as frequently as the Pro-Shots figure line, with just a couple of statues per year per athlete.

These will be real high-end pieces and very limited, something fitting for display in one's office or game room. The packaging will be a 4-color closed box since the emphasis is more on protecting the statue inside then being able to display in package.

Same question on the mini ASVs?

We are still finalizing the details of the new ASV configuration that will feature a slightly smaller size and lower price point achieved through much higher production runs for retail stores and a different tooling method. The packaging will remain similar to the window boxes used currently on the line. The big news is that the line will include a collectible trading card featuring the player artwork and a display base for the figures as well.

With all these new product lines, I'm trying to get a feel as to where the ASV line will fit in long term. Where do you see the ASV line going in the coming months and years?

All-Star Vinyl will continue to be a main focus of our figure offerings for each sport. We think the retail focused line will bring a lot of new collectors into the fold and open up a lot of new opportunities for the line to grow and expand.

What can you tell everyone about the MVPs?

Upper Deck MVP poster

The MVP concept, which stands for miniature vinyl platform, stemmed from the designer/art toy movement with figures like Kid Robot's Dunny, Toy2R's Qee, Medicom's Bearbrick and Kubrick, etc. A platform toy is where you have one common shape and then designers do their own graphic interpretations over the figure.

We worked with miQ Wilmott of TWEEQiM to create the figure itself in each of the 4 leagues and then he headed the art development for the NFL with 7 other artists. The lineup of artists is top notch, many of whom are very well known in the art toy community. We held a draft where the artists could select which teams they wanted to work on which brought some personalization and attachment to the designs versus just randomly assigning the teams. The designs have come out amazing and we think the line will interest both sports fans that want their favorite teams as well as designer toy fans that are looking at them from more of an art toy perspective or wanting to collect a piece from their favorite artist.

The figure will be 8-inches tall with articulation at the waist, head, and arms. Considering the figure is about as wide as it is tall, it's a pretty hefty hunk of vinyl that has a real cool feel to it and provided a ton of deco space for the artists. It also features a removable helmet that allowed the artists to do some additional cool things both on the helmet and underneath it with the figure or character's hair, etc. The line will be released in very limited quantities, less than ASV figures overall. We are still finalizing the details, but most likely the line retail for $44.95 SRP, which may initially seem high to sports collectors but is very much in line with how much similar platform toys cost due to how limited they are and the amount of decorations and painting required on each figure.

We think this line is going to turn a lot of heads and really bring some innovation to the sports collectibles category even more so than All-Star Vinyl given how unique the designs are.

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