In the Neutral Zone with John Ward, Executive Director of GAMA.


Q: What is on your desk this week/month?

About 45 days before the GAMA Trade Show, it seems like everything is on my desk right now. This is the time we lock down everything for the event.  We have menus and meals to finalize, items for the retail appreciation box for attendees that participate at Reno, hotel rooms, and a slew of other critical tasks that the staff does such a great job managing.

Q: What is something you wrestle with regularly?

Time management is a critical issue for all of us.  As the hobby market grows and faces new challenges, it seems that none of us ever have enough hours in the day.  The worst part is that all of it is important.  i must accept that whenever I put my time into one endeavor, it means that another important task is falling behind.  Identifying the high payoff tasks is challenging.

Q: What's something most people don't know about you?

I'm old.  This is really my third career.  At 53, I have been in the military over 23 years, served in state government for over 14 years, and I owned and operated a martial arts school for over 20 years. All that time I was a hobby business owner so I understand the challenges our retail store owners face every day.

Q: What is the most important lesson you learned in the past year?

Family is more important that anything. My parents are gone and my wife lost her father a year ago today. When it is all said and done, the best thing we can leave behind are positive memories.  It is much more important in how we conduct ourselves during the journey than in the actual milestones we pass.  I am hopeful that I will succeed in that legacy.

Q: What would you be doing if you were not at your current job?

I must admit, I love what I do.  I have never had a more competent team or a more enjoyable job. If I had to find something more rewarding than GAMA, it would be spending all my time with my family.  Most likely in the Carolina Mountains and probably in retirement mode.


2018 Upper Deck CDD Conference

Conference recap here

Upper Deck announces 'Singles Day' November 2018 - more soon!

Co-op funds and the year in review

Imaginaire's amazing new store benefited from Upper Deck co-op funds

Imaginaire's amazing new store benefited from Upper Deck co-op funds

Out of the Box's amazing new website benefits from UD co-op.7

Out of the Box's amazing new website benefits from UD co-op.7

Another great new website from our friends at Breakaway Sports Cards in Hamilton!

Another great new website from our friends at Breakaway Sports Cards in Hamilton!

When Jason Masherah announced the generous co-op in Phoenix back in Jan. 2017, everyone in the room was stunned -- even UD employees, who were largely not aware of it. One of the overlooked features of the program was the simplicity and lack of red tape. And remember, this program lifted all boats, not just Upper Deck's! Impressive.

Wayne's Sportscards new website. Also a beneficiary of the program.

Wayne's Sportscards new website. Also a beneficiary of the program.

Eastridge's new location. Was this the best program ever in our hobby? Maybe...

Eastridge's new location. Was this the best program ever in our hobby? Maybe...

401 Games new location in Vaughan!

401 Games new location in Vaughan!

D & M did an outstanding job out in Moncton. Well done!

D & M did an outstanding job out in Moncton. Well done!

Much more to come! Let us see what Upper Deck has in store for 2018!

In the Neutral Zone with Jason Masherah, President of Upper Deck

In this new series, titled In the Neutral Zone, we talk to key figures in our industry in an attempt to get to know the people in our community. We hope you enjoy it.

Our first instalment of In the Neutral Zone features a good friend of mine...he is also the President of The Upper Deck Company, Jason Masherah. Jason is, in my opinion, one of the most capable, innovative and passionate individuals in the industry. If you have the opportunity to attend the CDD Conference in Orlando in 2018, make sure to request an introduction, you will be glad you did.

Q: What is on your desk this week/month?

  • Mostly boring paperwork.  The one exciting item is the itinerary for the NHLPA Rookie Showcase.  It is hard to believe this will be our 9th Showcase since we worked with the NHLPA to create this event.  

Q: What is something you wrestle with regularly?

  • The biggest item that I wrestle with is how to grow and gain more visibility for the trading card industry.  Tim Horton’s has been a great partner in executing an A+ trading card promotion and we also executed a great program with Wal-Mart and Hanes around Guardians of the Galaxy 2.  Programs like these get packs of cards into people’s hands to introduce them to the category or remind them how fun our hobby is.

Q: What's something most people don't know about you?

  • I went to the same high school and university as Justin Abdelkader but have yet to meet him.  I need to work on that.

Q: What is the most important lesson you learned in the past year?

  • To keep a positive attitude.  Our attitudes are contagious.  Each of us come in contact with numerous people throughout a day and we all have the opportunity to either brighten or ruin someone’s day.  Sharing a compliment, a smile or a laugh goes a long way.

Q: What would you be doing if you were not at your current job?

  • It is hard for me to imagine doing anything else but if I didn’t work for Upper Deck, I would probably go to work for a sports team, property or league like my hometown Detroit Red Wings, Detroit Lions or Michigan State University.  Of course in my free time, I’d be collecting trading cards, comics and doing a lot more gaming than I do now.

With so many choices, where do you expand your business?

If you find yourself surveying your retail space for merchandising efficiencies, you are not alone. With so many products on the marketplace, and so many more that you may not carry, space is at a premium.

If a retailer decides to add a new product line, they are inherently adding risk. Will their existing customers buy? How will they attract new customers who may be interested in the new products. Where will they merchandise the new line in their store? These are important considerations.

When a manufacturer offers assistance in the form of co-op for merchandising or other assistance - provided  the retailer takes on the challenge -  one must think seriously about taking on the project. Upper Deck is one of those manufacturers.

If your store is seriously considering expanding to include, for example, Legendary, VS System or other Upper Deck non-sport trading cards, games or board games, please contact us to discuss opportunities available to help you get up and running.

UD to host CDD Conference in Phoenix & why you should attend.

On January 11th and 12th, Upper Deck is hosting a retailer conference in Phoenix Arizona for Certified Diamond Dealers. (see Registration information below) We believe strongly that, if possible, all CDD's should attend.

We are at a crossroads in the retailing landscape. The influence of technology and e-commerce on business is profound - for all of us, leagues, manufacturers, distributors, retailers and consumers. As our partners evolve to compete and stay relevant, so must we all - or risk being left behind. There is always an erosion of trust when change occurs quickly and we must work to rebuild our relationships in these times. It is precisely when we are most cynical and pessimistic that we put aside our frustration and attempt to forge a foundation for future growth and stability. We are hopeful that you do not see such opportunities as a 'waste of time', as opportunity is now the mother of invention. Every one of you has something of significant value to contribute to this conference - but it will not be realized if you do not make the effort to attend!

Wishing you a peaceful and joyous holiday and a prosperous New Year! 

2016 Universal Retailer Summit - Growing Your Business

On Monday September 19th, we will be hosting our annual 'retailer Summit'. We are always so delighted at the overwhelming interest and attendance in this day long event and have been working hard to prepare a line up of attendees to help you grow your business!

This year’s Summit promises to be the biggest and most exciting yet.

The day-long event will take place at the Marriot Courtyard Montreal Airport which is 5 minutes away from our office in Montreal.

Confirmed companies attending include:

 -          Wizards of the Coast

-          Upper Deck

-          Pokemon

-          Bushiroad

-          Paizo

-          WizKids!

-          Cool Mini or Not!

-          Mayfair Games

-          PSI/Steve Jackson Games

-          Ultra Pro

-          Iello

-          Renegade Studios

-          Gale Force 9/Battlefront

-          Passport Games

-          …and many more


Each company will be presenting their upcoming releases and discussing their business programs in detail. There will be time for individual meetings with each company when the exhibit room opens.

We will have a Demo-Room again this year!

All companies are graciously providing gifts and promotional items to all attending retailers. 

Space is very limited and there is no cost to attend. Breakfast and a buffet lunch will be provided complimentary as well. 

Agenda for September 19th 2016:

8:00 – 9:00  – Breakfast

9:00 – 12:00  – Company Presentations

12:00 – 1:00 – Lunch

1:00 – 3:00 – Company Presentations

3:00 – 6:00 – Exhibit Room

Don’t miss this opportunity to connect directly with the manufacturers that we all rely on! See you there!


Events that make a difference!

Recently, we promoted our 2nd Annual NHL Draft Night celebration across Canada. Interest this year was at record levels as Upper Deck produced a special set of Young Gun designed cards just for the occasion. Feedback from retailers has been excellent, and you can be sure we will continue the tradition next year!

Lets look at some upcoming events and promotions for the remainder of the year, as we remain very committed to investing in the hobby and our clients:

  • We will be promoting an event, currently in the design process, around the return to school/new NHL season featuring some signed cards, and some uncut sheets to help you move through additional inventory. More on this shortly.
  • Our Annual Retailer Summit is on Monday September 19th. Once again it is conveniently located at the Marriott Airport in Montreal. It is a great opportunity to find out about upcoming products, to meet manufacturer reps and to grab an awesome goodie bag!
  • Our Canadian exclusive Overtime NHL packs are looking better than ever. Content has been augmented and there are instant win cards in Wave 1 for free boxes of Upper Deck products!
  • We are looking at the opportunity of inserting 'Dealer Cards' in packs of UD1 and UD2. Shops would have to submit professional hi resolution images of themselves in front of their stores to Upper Deck to participate. This is not confirmed yet, but we will let you know soon.
  • We are hosting, along with Upper Deck, a Q and A session on the Thursday night before the Fall Expo in Toronto - at the exhibition site. We will also be hosting a dinner, by invitation, on the Saturday night at a local TBD restaurant to socialize and have some fun (similar to last years event that featured Daryl Sittler, Lanny McDonald and Dave Tiger Williams!)
  • We are working on a number of additional promotional items such as Jerseys, Floor Mats and Sandwich boards and more details will follow soon on these items.

And, of course, along with Upper Deck, we are offering co-op support for stories that decide to sponsor a local 6-12 year old house league hockey team! This is an incredible opportunity to promote yourselves and your store in your community and be an ambassador of sport! Now is the time to line up your team!

As always, if you have any suggestions, feedback or would like to discuss a unique opportunity in your market, please do not hesitate to contact me.



ePack® Attack

In late 2015 Upper Deck surprised the hobby hockey card market with e-Pack, a virtual consumer portal featuring both primary and secondary markets in a convenient, easy-to-use online platform.  Collectors can buy, sell, trade, and grade cards online without leaving their home. Naturally, brick and mortar hobby proprietors felt the immediate threat of cannibalized sales, both in-store and online, due to the compelling platform.   

At the Industry Summit in Hawaii, Upper Deck organized a session with hobby dealers and distributors to discuss e-Pack and address the many questions surrounding the program.  It was evident from this meeting that virtually all hobby dealers were pessimistic about e-Pack, with many sharing stories of how it had already negatively impacted their business.  

In response to this feedback, Upper Deck agreed to implement several initiatives designed to use e-Pack to drive consumers to brick and mortar stores.  These initiatives include, 1) sharing the complete schedule of upcoming e-Pack releases as they become available; 2) adding a link to the dealer locator in the e-Pack news feed, with plans to make the dealer locater a part of the  platform; 3) using the e-Pack platform to announce and market hobby-exclusive product releases; and, 4) ensuring a better balance regarding e-Pack exclusive content versus hobby exclusive content.
Upper Deck has promised to continue to evolve e-Pack with the hobby shops' concerns in mind.  It is clear that e-Pack is not going away.  Upper Deck has spent several years developing the platform, and we can expect it to be actively promoted.  Therefore, it is up to us, the hobby dealers and distributors, to make sure Upper Deck keeps its promise to listen and respond to our concerns.  Our collective energy is best spent on ways in which we can use e-Pack to drive customers to hobby stores, websites, or break activities.

However, in order for Upper Deck to be held to account, we need to provide constructive and professional feedback on a regular basis. We at Universal will work as your advocate but we need your help in creating workable strategies.  Talk to your customers for feedback on their experiences with e-Pack and what keeps them coming back to you. One idea for example, could be to assign a portion of a retailer's product allocation to e-Pack, and when a product is sold out in-store, they would have access to their virtual product via the e-Pack platform. I don't know if this could actually work, but it is an example of an idea that we should be exploring.

Internet retailing such as e-Pack is a fact. It doesn't help to ignore it, or be angry or cynical. I am confident that if correctly evolved, we can use e-Pack to grow our hobby. For sure, there are some incredible opportunities available through the e-Pack platform.  However, we need to remind Upper Deck that the brick and mortar store is responsible for hockey's incredible success over the last 25 years, and will continue to be the backbone of collecting in Canada for years to come.  Upper Deck needs to assure the hobby brick and mortar that the goal of e-Pack is to significantly expand the hobby, and bring new and lapsed collectors back to collecting.  If we can help them do that, it benefits us all.

2016 NHL June Draft Night Co-op Opportunity - allocated!

Last year, in conjunction with Upper Deck, we offered a great promotion on NHL Draft night in hobby shops across the country. It was a great success, with more than 20 shops participating.

Shops received a generous food and beverage credit, hand-numbered McDavid 5x7 cards, jersey shirts, tote bags, priority sale pricing and more. It was a superb opportunity to generate excitement around Upper Deck's upcoming releases and build goodwill with your customers.

We are very pleased to announce the return of the promotion! The 2016 NHL June 24 Draft Night promotion will again feature a food and beverage credit and several very cool prizes and giveaways for your event! Details will be available soon!


Thank you for your continued support of Universal Distribution and Upper Deck!

Between the Lines Vol. 13 Hawaii 3-0: Preparing for the 2016 Industry Summit

Hawaii 3-0, the 30th anniversary of our industry's trade conference takes place in less than a month.  This year's summit runs from February 21st to the 25th and will bring together licensors, manufacturers, wholesalers, hobby dealers, and publishers. 

The summit goes beyond a typical trade show, by offering unique opportunities to interact with industry players in a series of panel discussions and idea exchange sessions, as well as informal social events.  Attendees will have multiple opportunities to participate in discussions  regarding the possibilities and challenges facing our industry, and inevitability will be asked to "brainstorm" ideas.   

Brainstorming has been touted as a way to problem-solve and make an organizational culture more innovative.  However, decades of research challenges this conventional wisdom.  Typical brainstorming sessions can lead to conformity and fixation on one or two ideas.  As well, sessions tend to be dominated by a few vocal participants while the majority stay silent.  Though brainstorming can lead to spontaneous free-flowing ideas, they often go nowhere because they are unrealistic and go beyond the scope of what organizations are willing to consider.

 A recent article in Psychology Today reported that brainstorming groups actually come up with fewer ideas than the same number of people who work alone and then pool their ideas.  We can use this knowledge to plan for a more successful Summit.  As you finalize your travel plans, think about what you can contribute to the discussion regarding the state of our industry and its future.   To get you started, there are a number of recurring themes at every industry trade conference. They include:  

1) how do we "grow the business" through innovative products, use of technology, and promotions that engage new collectors (i.e. youth, female consumers)?; 
2) how do we foster regular communication between industry players throughout the year and not just at yearly summits?; and
3) how can we increase trust between consumers, retailers, wholesalers, and manufacturers?

Thinking about these issues before your plane lands in Hawaii will help avoid the common pitfalls of idea fixation and conformity.  Come prepared by taking stock of your business over the past year - what worked, what could have improved, what additional supports could you have used?  What are some of your most important concerns for your business and the industry as a whole?  In the hockey trade this year, we have seen tremendous growth due to a great rookie crop; how can we leverage this growth beyond this year?  

After 10 years on the mainland, the Summit returns to Hawaii, where it all began with pioneer Kit Young.  I encourage you to attend, and to bring your best ideas with you.  Leave any cynicism you may have about trade shows at home and bring a positive attitude.  I guarantee we will have a successful Summit.  To encourage attendance, Universal Distribution will be sponsoring attendance for a number of retailers. If you haven't yet registered, you can find more information at

Making the most of National Hockey Card Day - Between the Lines V12

Upper Deck is preparing for one of its most successful promotions - National Hockey Card Day (NHCD), taking place on Saturday, February 6, 2016.  The date coincides with the 16th annual Hockey Day in Canada, featuring all seven Canadian NHL teams in action. 

Hockey fans in both Canada and the United States will be able to visit their local hobby shop for a free pack of cards created by Upper Deck exclusively for NHCD.  The 15-card set features the game's hottest stars and legends, including this year's crop of incredible rookies. The set also includes Hockey Heroes and Canadian Pride content.  A bonus 16th card is available with an in-store purchase; for Canadian collectors that will be a Connor McDavid Memorable Moments card. Upper Deck has also hinted at a surprise insert.  Last year, it was a Young Guns Tribute card.  This year, the mystery insert is guaranteed to be highly sought-after. 

NHCD provides a golden opportunity for retailers to do more than just be a pit-stop for a free pack of cards. With the excitement surrounding this year's rookie players, NHCD will bring  hockey fans to hobby stores in record numbers. This is an opportunity to engage new and lapsed collectors by providing them with an unforgettable experience that will bring them back for years to come.  For kids in particular, NHCD provides a way to plant the seed of the joy of collecting and cultivate a future community of collectors.  

We strongly encourage all hobby shops to start planning now for the year's biggest event.  Here are some suggestions to make the most of NHCD:  

bring in extra staff to manage crowds and serve customers  
offer food and refreshments
create incentives for customers to post to social media
engage customers with hockey-themed trivia games, raffles and door prizes
live stream and tweet the day's events
build your contact list by collecting customer information (raffle entry, etc.)
promote a future event (e.g. release party for future UD product; playoff pool; bring a friend event)

To support events in Canada, Upper Deck will provide 40 stores with a promotional package that will include How to Collect Guides, New Collector Binders, Promotional Cards and Autographed Memorabilia.  To be eligible, you must submit a one-page plan on how you will use NHCD to promote Upper Deck NHL products.  Upper Deck will be looking for creative ways to make NHCD a great experience for your customers, above and beyond giving out a free pack. 

In closing, at our recent Retailer Summit, Adam Larry, NHLPA Director of Licensing and Associate Counsel, urged attendees to capitalize on this extraordinary season as a catalyst for future growth.  To that end, NHCD is a glorious scoring opportunity. Submit your plan today!

2016 National Hockey Card Day Checklist

Canadian Set

Canadian Pride
CAN-1 John Tavares, New York Islanders
CAN-2 Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens
CAN-3 Taylor Hall, Edmonton Oilers
CAN-4 Andrew Ladd, Winnipeg Jets
CAN-5 Sean Monahan, Calgary Flames

Canada’s Rookies
CAN-6 Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers
CAN-7 Sam Bennett, Calgary Flames
CAN-8 Robby Fabbri, St. Louis Blues
CAN-9 Max Domi, Arizona Coyotes
CAN-10 Nicolas Petan, Winnipeg Jets

Hockey Heroes
CAN-11 Wayne Gretzky, Team Canada
CAN-12 Bobby Orr, Boston Bruins
CAN-13 Lanny McDonald, Calgary Flames
CAN-14 Glenn Anderson, Edmonton Oilers
CAN-15 Doug Gilmour, Toronto Maple Leafs

Memorable Moments
CAN-16 Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers

American Set

Stars in Stripes
USA-1 John Carlson, Washington Capitals
USA-2 Phil Kessel, Pittsburgh Penguins
USA-3 Zach Parise, Minnesota Wild
USA-4 Kevin Shattenkirk, St. Louis Blues
USA-5 Corey Schneider, New Jersey Devils

America’s Rookies
USA-6 Jack Eichel, Buffalo Sabres
USA-7 Dylan Larkin, Detroit Red Wings
USA-8 Noah Hannifin, Carolina Hurricanes
USA-9 Artemi Panarin, Chicago Blackhawks
USA-10 Oscar Lindberg, New York Rangers

American Icons
USA-11 John Vanbiesbrouck, New York Rangers
USA-12 Doug Weight, New York Islanders
USA-13 Chris Chelios, Detroit Red Wings
USA-14 Brett Hull, St. Louis Blues
USA-15 John LeClair, Philadelphia Flyers

Memorable Moments
USA-16 Jack Eichel, Buffalo Sabres

Between the Lines Vol. 11 - Climbing the Summit

Universal Distribution recently hosted its 5th annual Retailer Summit in Montreal.  The 2015 Summit attracted the industry's leading manufacturers of CCG's, trading cards, board games, and miniatures. Retailers from across Canada attended and were treated to exhibitions from WOTC, Upper Deck, Upper Deck Entertainment, Paizo, FOW, Mayfair Games, GF9, Iello, Passport Games, Bushiroad, Scorpion Mask, Steve Jackson, CGE, and Pokemon.  

Retailers also heard presentations from various manufacturers in attendance, as well as the NHLPA"s Director of Licensing and Associate Counsel, Adam Larry.  The presentations included previews of the hottest new releases for 2015-2016, ideas on creating an attractive retail space, and strategies for drawing kitchen table gamers to your store. New at this year's event was the addition of a demo room where retailers could see the newest games and give them a test run. 

For retailers who could not attend in person, the proceedings were broadcast live on Periscope, with updates posted on Twitter throughout the day.  Courtesy of Universal and our manufacturers, all attendees received a gorgeous gift bag filled with a sampling of games, books, miniatures, and more.  You can see photographs from the day's proceedings, on Universal's Facebook page at   

Over the last 5 years, the Universal Retailer Summit has provided a valuable opportunity for our retailers and manufacturers to interact and communicate. This has created a feedback loop between retailer, manufacturer, and distributor, where participants exchange ideas and learn from one another.  For obvious reasons, the missing player in this communication exchange is the end user - your customers.  So why not take the Retailer Summit model to your store and host a Customer summit for collectors and gamers in your community?  It is an event that we think could be successfully replicated in your retail store.  

Hosting a Customer Summit in your store would allow customers to interact with suppliers and share their gaming and collecting experiences.  The information and feedback that emerges can then be brought back to the manufacturer; for example how best to support and meet the needs of the dedicated gaming enthusiast, product development ideas, customer outreach opportunities, and promotional materials.  As well, a Customer Summit is one way to invite the local community to your store and provide a place to meet and interact with other collectors and gamers. 

The response to Universal's yearly summit has have been tremendous and we are already planning the 6th Annual Universal Distribution Retailer Summit. If you attended this year, Universal would love to get your feedback on how we can improve and make it relevant to you as a retailer.  There is nothing like meeting face-to-face and if you were not able to attend this year, we invite you to attend next year's event.

And if you are interested in hosting a Customer Summit, we can help get you started and offer support in contacting potential exhibitors and/or presenters.  Contact us for more information.