NHL lockout costs sports card dealers sales

The economic fallout from the NHL lockout continues for sports card dealers and collectors even though the shortened season is underway.

They are lamenting the fact there are very few rookie cards available this season.

Because the season started so late, card manufacturers chose not to include high-profile rookies such as Nail Yakupov in this season’s product lines.

That decision hits Saadeh Helou in the wallet. He’s owned Helou’s Sports Cards and Collectibles in Windsor, Ont., for 21 years.

“Normally, we have 14 or 15 sets a year and this year we’ll have six or seven sets. That’s going to hurt my business, for sure,” he said. “I’m very upset. It’s a huge impact.”

Helou predicts his overall sales will be down 50 per cent. Nearly three quarters of sales are hockey cards, he said.

Chris Carlin, the sports marketing and social media manager for card company Upper Deck, confirmed his company will produce fewer product lines and shorter product runs. However, he said some of the price points will be lowered.

“I think it hurts everyone,” Carlin said of the lockout. “I was in Toronto in November and people were walking around in a funk. They were lost without hockey.”

In order for a rookie to have a card, he must have skated in one official NHL game. That couldn’t have happened in time for a player like Yakupov because the season started too late — too close to when card companies had to begin printing product.

“There were just too many X factors in play. Primarily, it was timing,” Carlin said of Upper Deck’s decision to exclude rookies. “To not have [Yakupov] in the product is a big miss. It’s not in the best interest to go forward with a guy like that in only a couple products. It’s important that players as big as him are represented in all the brands.”

That won’t happen until next season’s product line is launched.

“Starting next year, we’ll have a double rookie class, which we have not seen since the 2005-06 season,” Carlin said.

That season, Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin, who debuted in two different seasons, had their rookie cards appear in the same set.

Helou said that was good for business.

“That was an amazing year for business. We’re going to have a good season next year, but we’ll have to struggle until we get there,” he said.

Carlin said it's a misnomer to suggest there are no rookies available this year. ChrisKreider, Sven Baertschi and JadenSchwartz appear in products this season.

Wayne Stoehr has been collecting hockey cards for 20 years. He’s bitter about this year’s situation.

“It is a passion. It is a hobby. I’ll continue [to buy]. But not to the extent I was before,” Stoehr said.

“When they finally announced there would be a season, the vast majority of collectors were overjoyed the rookies would come out. It’s an excellent crop. That they won’t be available for us puts a sour taste in our mouth.”

Carlin said Upper Deck prepared for the worst — the loss of the entire season.

The company offered up more Wayne Gretzky and Bobby Orr autographs and embedded pieces of hockey nets used in the 2012 Stanley Cup final.

“Whether there was a season or whether there wasn’t, we were going to make sure we did our due diligence to engage fans and show them we appreciate and value their business,” Carlin said.

Upper Deck planned National Hockey Card Day in Canada to coincide with Hockey Day in Canada, which is Feb. 9 across the country and broadcast on CBC-TV.

Upper Deck will be giving away free packs of hockey cards at more than 200 card retailers and participating London Drugs and Toys "R" Us stores in Canada.

“Watch the games, of course,” Carlin said, “but go get some free packs.”

Scotiabank Hockey Day in Canadawill be broadcast on CBC-TV beginning at noon Saturday. It will include coverage from Peterborough, Ont., and four NHL games featuring all seven Canadian teams.

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