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Volume 21 No. 1

Marketing and Sponsorship

Troubled economy? Labor uncertainty in the NHL?

So what?

Upper Deck on Sept. 11 will release its latest installment of The Cup, a high-end series of hockey cards. Each pack costs $400. There are only five cards in a pack, occasionally a bonus sixth, but the trading card company promises gold — or, think silver — for collectors.

“Like the Stanley Cup is for players and fans, we believe this is the ultimate prize for collectors,” said Upper Deck hockey brand manager Josh Zusman.

The Cup product was created in 2005 by Upper Deck as the hockey version of its Exquisite brand for the NBA and NFL. Exquisite was coming off a big success with LeBron James’ arrival in the NBA. In 2005, Sidney Crosby was drafted first overall by Pittsburgh after the 2004-05 NHL season was lost to a lockout.

Crosby’s rookie card from that first edition of The Cup, featuring the star’s autograph and a swatch of his jersey, is considered the holy grail among cards of this generation’s stars. It is valued at more than $10,000. Only 99 were produced and printed with serial numbers.

Upper Deck says every edition of The Cup has sold out but declined to release financial data or details about the volume of cards produced annually. Grant Sandground, product development manager for the company, said, “We can tell you … that demand always far outstrips supply.”

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins’ rookie card will be a series star.
The possibility of an NHL lockout this fall — the current collective-bargaining agreement expires Sept. 15 — did not affect Upper Deck’s decision to release The Cup series for 2012. “This is one of our products that is virtually immune to on-ice factors — even the possibility of a delayed start to the season,” Sandground said. “For hockey card collectors, this release is arguably a bigger thrill than the start of the season. Seriously.”

Expected to be one of the most sought-after cards from this year’s release will be a rookie card of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, the emerging star of the Edmonton Oilers who was drafted first overall in 2011. Nugent-Hopkins is getting the Crosby treatment, with 99 serial-numbered cards featuring his autograph and a piece of his jersey from last season.

Upper Deck does not have an exclusive licensing deal with the NHL and NHL Players’ Association, which also have contracts with Panini. Currents stars such as Crosby, Alexander Ovechkin and Steven Stamkos have autographed cards in The Cup, but the company cannot claim them as exclusives. However, Upper Deck does have exclusive arrangements with legends such as Wayne Gretzky and Bobby Orr, who are featured in The Cup.

According to Dave McCarthy, NHL vice president of consumer products licensing, the league’s partnership with Upper Deck is in the third year of a four-year contract.

“It’s a unique product,” McCarthy said of The Cup. “It highlights our brightest stars, combined with rare memorabilia. It appeals to high-end collectors.”

It also appears to be a solid investment. Each pack of The Cup is presented in a tin. Uncracked cases from previous seasons — each case has six packs of cards — go for $4,000 and more on websites.

Upper Deck uses four distributors to place The Cup in about 800 U.S. hobby stores and two distributors to cover an estimated 350 stores in Canada. Mark Rubin, owner of the American Legends store in Scarsdale, N.Y., said he usually orders three cases of The Cup and they sell out quickly.

“A lot of times, they open the packs right in front of me,” Rubin said. “I find myself rooting for them. It’s expensive. You hope they get one of the most valuable cards.”

A new UPS program on blurs the line between content and advertising — intentionally.

UPS launched a series of videos called “Ideas That Changed NASCAR” this month on NASCAR’s official website. Two of the videos, which range from two to three minutes, are available on the site, while four more are planned for release between now and the end of the season.

The videos represent the most significant example of branded content by a NASCAR official partner on the website, said Matt Shulman, NASCAR’s managing director of marketing platforms. UPS has been a NASCAR official partner since 2000 and its latest deal runs through 2014. The company also has a sponsorship on Carl Edwards’ car at Roush Fenway Racing.

“This is great branded entertainment,” Shulman said. “All of the brand attributes of UPS, like logistics, innovation and efficiency, come through in the storytelling. It totally merges the concepts of content and advertising.”

The videos explore different innovations that changed the sport and feature interviews with many of NASCAR’s greats, as well as archived race footage. They appear on the main page under a category called “Features.”

The first two videos focus on pit crews and race control. The newest version features legendary race promoter Humpy Wheeler describing how he brought lights to Charlotte Motor Speedway and made night racing possible. Woven into the videos are references to logistics, the primary marketing theme for UPS.

NASCAR Productions produced the videos, which constitute a media buy with Turner Sports manages the site for NASCAR through this year and then NASCAR will take over its operations.

The “Ideas That Changed NASCAR” initiative represents UPS’s primary activation for the season. Terms of the buy were not available.

“We’ve made a variety of buys with in the past, from banner ads to promotions, but we’ve never done content like this,” said Jennifer Oliveras, the global sponsorship manager for UPS in Atlanta. “Working with NASCAR helped us gain access to interviews and race footage, and the themes of innovation and game-changers are natural connections for our business.”

UPS has worked with branded content before on its NCAA sponsorship, using coaches like Connecticut’s Geno Auriemma in both commercials and online videos to talk about the logistics of a basketball play.

David Campisi is moving from running one of the nation’s biggest sporting goods retailers, Sports Authority, to a considerably smaller Portland apparel brand.

Campisi, who last week was named the new CEO and chairman of Respect Your Universe Inc., isn’t letting the upstart athletic apparel brand’s diminutive nature limit its ambitions.

“I truly believe this brand has legs behind it,” Campisi said. “A lot of people would say it’s pretty risky for you to do something like this, but it’s really something I believe in.”

RYU is a mixed martial arts-inspired brand of premium training apparel headquartered in Las Vegas — home base to much of the MMA world — but is run mostly by a 10-person team in Portland.

Until last week it had been led by Christopher Martens, a former Nike Inc. merchandise director, who amassed a leadership team peppered with experience in athletic apparel, including with Nike and Lululemon Athletica.

RYU, in a news release, said Martens resigned on Aug. 13 with four months’ severance pay. Though the company didn’t provide an explanation for Martens’ departure — he had been appointed to the company’s board of directors in January — Campisi said it was done on good terms, and “we wish him well.”

For Campisi, who joined the RYU board in March, the move is something of a homecoming. Campisi spent 20 years in Portland, including 12 — from 1984 to 1996 — as an executive at former Portland-based department store chain Meier & Frank, where he was a vice president and merchandise manager for women’s apparel. He then went onto work for the Fred Meyer Inc. chain, where he held several titles, including vice president of apparel.

He left the state in 2004 for a short stint with Wisconsin-based apparel and home goods retailer Kohl’s before jumping to Sports Authority, where he rose from chief merchandising officer, to president, to finally CEO and chairman — top posts he held for 17 months before resigning last July.

Campisi joins a brand that has begun to gain traction in the MMA world. In December, it reached a deal to be a sponsor of several Ultimate Fighting Championship events. In February, it raised $1.5 million in equity capital to help build brand awareness. And last month, it announced plans for a flagship retail store in Las Vegas.

RYU is positioned as a premium brand of training apparel, occupying a price position Campisi describes as being a notch below Lululemon, but above Nike, Adidas and Under Armour.

Erik Siemers writes for the Portland Business Journal, an affiliated publication.