Fleer has suspended its trading card operations indefinitely until the future of the company can be mapped out, a source told Beckett.com Wednesday.
The company laid off the majority of its work force late last week - including several product developers and managers - although a few employees still remain. “The trading card operation is suspended and we’re not releasing anything new going forward until ownership determines the course of action it wants to take,” said the source, who requested anonymity.
The source said Fleer’s decision to suspend operations came “as a surprise” to most of the employees. “Obviously, we were shopped around last year,” the source said, “but we did turn our misfortunes around in the last year.”
While Beckett has received several questions about unfulfilled redemptions, the Fleer official could offer no definitive update. “It’s not that we aren’t going to ship those redemptions, it’s not that we are,” the source said. “All aspects of our trading card business, including redemptions, are suspended right now.”
Rumors of Press Pass buying Fleer to secure the NBA license and the Fleer Collectibles die-cast category have recently surfaced. Efforts to reach Press Pass for comment were unsuccessful Wednesday.
Fleer - which was purchased by Alex Grass and son Roger in 1999 for $26 million from Marvel Enterprises, Inc. - was shopped around twice in the last two years, most recently late last year, said an executive with one of the card manufacturers that met with the embattled company. “The debt we would have had to assume was just too great,” the executive said. “It wasn’t so much debt from the sports card line, but more when they tried to expand the gaming line. There were some pretty serious royalties [that hurt them].”
Fleer produced two benchmark trading cards in the 1980s. In 1984, the company was the only major manufacturer to release a Roger Clemens card, including the then-Boston Red Sox youngster in its 1984 Fleer Update set. That set also included the first licensed card of future Hall of Famer Kirby Puckett.
In 1986, Fleer helped resurrect the basketball card industry by releasing the classic 1986-87 Fleer Basketball set which included Michael Jordan’s Rookie Card - a card valued at $800 in Near Mint condition. Last year, Fleer jumped back into the high-end Rookie Card race, producing one of the hottest cards of the year - Ben Roethlisberger’s Fleer Hot Prospects JSY AU RC. Limited to just 50 copies, it carried an initial value of $200 in the October 2004 issue of Beckett Football. Within three months, its value had rocketed to $750.
Yet despite some successes in the secondary market, Fleer still seemed to struggle with collector acceptance.
“One of the biggest difficulties with Fleer over the years is that, with a few notable exceptions such as Ultra, Tradition, Greats of the Game and Hot Prospects, the company never established true brand identities,” says Beckett Price Guide analyst Rich Klein. “It was also confusing to collectors when names of products were switched on seemingly a random basis from Fleer Showcase to Flair Showcase and then back again to Fleer Showcase. In addition, with a few exceptions, the products Fleer introduced in recent years never resonated with collectors as the brands they created in the early- and mid-1990s.”