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Upper Deck President Jason Masherah Discusses Brand’s Approach to NIL Partnerships

Masherah says that for high school and college deals, “it’s all about the potential to be a great athlete.”

Pitt quarterback Kedon Slovis passes in a game between Miami and Pitt. (Photo by Samuel Lewis/Icon Sportswire)

Last Updated on December 8, 2022

Upper Deck, known for its sports trading cards and memorabilia, is starting to make a splash in college athletics with NIL, and President Jason Masherah believes they have an advantage in an evolving industry. 

According to an Upper Deck press release, the company has made four NIL agreements, most notably with University of Pittsburgh quarterback Kedon Slovis toward the end of November. Slovis recently entered the transfer portal, but Upper Deck will continue to promote his products from his time at Pitt.

Masherah revealed Upper Deck has been working with young athletes for a long time due to their partnership with the NHL, NHLPA and the NHL alumni. Upper Deck’s partnership with the NHL dates back to 1990, as the exclusive licensed manufacturer of physical trading cards for the league. 

“A lot of hockey players go into the CHL at 15 or 16, and we tend to sign and look for talent at those ages,” Masherah said. “So for us, it was just a natural extension when we had the ability to sign kids here in the US we just extended what we’ve done in hockey for years.”

Even though the process will be different in the United States, it’s a similar principle. The trouble for any company with NIL, is dealing with different regulations in every state. “I think it’s really hard for the NCAA, because every state essentially has different rules…and it makes it so the schools have to fend for themselves,” Masherah said. 

He added, “everything is on the table” in terms of going after athletes at young ages, depending on the laws which vary by state.

“We’ll look as far down as we can, where it makes sense,” Masherah said. 

Upper Deck tends to compete with Panini and Topps in the trading cards market, but when it comes to NIL, Masherah said they set themselves apart with selection. Upper Deck hasn’t signed many athletes, but when they do it’s because it’s a good fit and the athlete aligns with the company’s brand. 

“When you talk about high school (and) college deals, it’s all about the potential to be a great athlete,” Masherah said. “That’s what we look for. We look for great athletes, people who conduct themselves in the right way who match our brand.”

With everything at their fingertips in regards to signing college athletes of all sports, Masherah said it won’t change the company’s biggest focus and investment.

“We put a lot of time and effort into hockey…that’s our bread and butter (and) it will continue to be our bread and butter,” Masherah said. 

The future of NIL is similar to diving into the deep sea — a lot of unknown. Countless agreements have been made, but not all have worked out. Masherah sees deals being scaled back and signed more cautiously. As a result, he thinks it will turn into bigger and better deals for all sides. 

College basketball and football get the most attention, but Upper Deck’s experience in the hockey field gives them a unique perspective on NIL. Masherah and Upper Deck have a well-renowned trading card and memorabilia foundation, and will be looking to add to their collection in the years to come.

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