Tuesday, July 21, 2009

1991 Fleer Ultra Baseball Stickers

Fleer had one final Baseball sticker release as inserts in packs of 1991 Fleer Ultra:

The stickers are smaller than normal card size and are blank backed:

With Score entering the market in 1988, Upper Deck issuing its groundbreaking set in 1989, and Leaf returning to the baseball card scene with a high end premium offering in 1990, the baseball card market was quickly changing. Premium cards with high quality photography on slick card stock with UV coating suddenly made the annual sets from Topps, Fleer and Donruss seem cheap and dull.

By 1991 the card companies that had been helping drive the baseball card boom of the 1980s decided to issue premium sets of their own. The ultimate result was an explosion of different sets. Not only were there multiple card companies producing card sets by the early 1990s, now those companies were producing multiple sets under different brands.

Donruss got the process started with the 1990 Leaf set,

and in 1991 Topps responded with Stadium Club

while Fleer debuted the Ultra brand.

For the first year Fleer included Baseball logo sticker inserts in the Ultra packs as they had with their base set, but this was only to last a year. By the time Fleer issued its second Ultra set in 1992, they had stopped using logo stickers for inserts in all their products. With so much focus on insert cards, Fleer no longer saw the need to include stickers in their packs.

As we reach the end of the review of Fleer's baseball stickers, its amazing to see what a change took place in the hobby over a relatively short period of time after Fleer successfully took on the Topps monopoly in the late 1970's and opened the market to competitors who continued to expand the market to levels never imagined.

If someone would have predicted in 1980 when Topps was the only option available to collectors that within 11 years there would be 5 major baseball card manufacturers producing multiple card sets each, they would have been thought of as crazy, yet thats exactly what happened between 1981 when Fleer and Donruss entered the market to 1991 when card companies started segmenting the market with premium high end cards to go along with their lower priced base card sets. Who would have ever thought that the baseball card market was a market that could be segmented?

Unfortunately the company that paved the way for this tremendous change is no longer with us, having suffered through bankrutpcy in 2005 and having the rights to its name bought by Upper Deck. Upper Deck produced a few sets under the Fleer name after the acquisition, but has not issued any Fleer baseball related sets since 2007.

The sad irony is that the tremendous growth in the market which Fleer helped bring about by defeating Topps and winning the right to produce baseball cards at the beginning of the 1980s ultimately led to an overcrowded marketplace by the early 2000's which simply couldn't support so many different brands. Fleer's financial difficulties sealed their fate as they went out of business, and other producers soon found themselves out of the market as well when MLB started restricting the number of licensees to try to bring some order and stability back to the hobby.

My hope is that one day Upper Deck realizes what a great legacy they have with the Fleer name and find a way to reintroduce the brand successfully, which of course would mean including team logo stickers!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

1991 Fleer Baseball Stickers

Fleer issued their final series of Baseball team logo stickers in 1991:

The 1991 Fleer Baseball stickers marked the end of a 25 year run of Fleer Baseball team patches / stickers that started in back in 1967 with their first release of cloth emblem patches:

1991 would be the last year that Fleer included Baseball stickers as inserts in packs:

Factory Sets:

and Update Sets:

Fleer marked the end of their run with the one thing that has distinguished so many of the Fleer sets over the years - VARIATIONS!

The 1991 Fleer Baseball sticker set is the king of the variation sets as every single sticker in the set has a variation. For some stickers the variations are fairly obvious, and for others you have to spend a little more time looking to find the differences.

For your viewing pleasure, here is the complete set of all the variations - see if you can spot the differences:

No one is sure why there are variations for each sticker. The one theory that makes the most sense is that Fleer had 2 different printing companies producing the stickers and each printed a slightly different sticker. I have yet to come across any 1991 uncut sticker sheets so I can't confirm if the differences can be found on the same sheet (in which case, the variations would have been intentional and not the result of different printers).

The backs of the stickers contain Top 10 lists for each team's batting and pitching career records:

With the insert craze starting to catch on in the early 1990s, presumably Fleer didn't see the need to keep including the stickers as inserts when they were creating a number of different other insert sets by 1992 as this pack shows:

Once insert cards became all the rage and each year's set had an ever increasing number of insert sets, it probably didn't make sense for Fleer to keep creating new team logo stickers every year.

After 25 years of producing team logo cloth patches, quiz cards, iron-ons, and stickers, (with the final 10 years having the stickers included as inserts with their annual baseball card sets), Fleer stopped producing team logo stickers after 1991.

Fleer did release one more baseball logo sticker set in 1991, but it was not associated with their base set. I'll cover that set in my next post.