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Sports card producers have come and gone over the years, often because they don't bring anything new to the table. Upper Deck changed cards and collecting with its very first product in 1989, which helps explain how its gone from innovative newcomer to industry giant in less than two decades.
The 1989 Upper Deck Baseball set paved the way for many things today's collectors take for granted. Improved card stock, holographic stickers and tamper-proof packs are all commonplace among sports cards of many brands, but Upper Deck's first release introduced all of those improvements. It was expensive by the standards of 1989, though collectors didn't seem to mind, and the set sold out. To this day, the 1989 Upper Deck Ken Griffey Jr. rookie card remains one of the most iconic sports cards ever.
New twists on sports cards have continued to flow from the company's headquarters in California. Many people consider Upper Deck the originator of inserting autographed and serial numbered cards into packs, and while it didn't create the first cards with pieces of event-used material attached, it was the first to produce game-used jersey cards. Ironically, the Upper Deck base brand that was considered a premium product at the time is on the lower end of the scale today, but Upper Deck has continued to test the frontiers of the high end market with its introduction of Ultimate Collection and Exquisite Collection.
Currently Upper Deck is the only manufacturer with licenses to print cards of players at the top level of professional baseball, football, basketball and hockey (it has the only NHL license as of 2007). After its purchase of Fleer's assets and trademarks, it has continued to produce sports cards using the Fleer name and other well-known brands like Ultra and Hot Prospects.
The other arms of the Upper Deck Company include Upper Deck Authenticated, which handles authentic game-used and autographed memorabilia from athletes like Michael Jordan, LeBron James and Tiger Woods, and Upper Deck Entertainment, the entity responsible for the popular Yu-Gi-Oh! and World of Warcraft collectible card games.