JOGO's Alumni Reunion
What happens after a card company loses its license to make cards of active players? In the case of Canadian cardmaker JOGO, the company has gone forward into the past.
After 32 seasons (1981-2012) of making cards for the Canadian Football League, JOGO found itself on the losing end of the right to make CFL cards when the American Upper Deck company, who themselves lost their license to make cards for most of the key US sports leagues, reached an agreement to be the league's exclusive cardmaker (though their 2013 cards were not made available for sale to card collectors). This agreement between Upper Deck and the CFL Players Association runs through the 2017 season.
JOGO's John Bradley, though, turned to the CFL Alumni Association and obtained permission to make cards of players who belong to the Alumni Association, During the 2013 and 2014, seasons, Bradley made seven series of Alumni cards, as well as one series consisting entirely of Saskatchewan Roughriders players, the latter of which were sponsored by a credit union instead of the CFLAA. While Bradley doesn't make as many sets of alumni cards as he did when he issued sets of active players (Print runs, in both cases, number in the hundreds), he has a small base of loyal dealers and collectors who ensure these sets are a sellout. To date, JOGO has released over 160 different cards of the retirees.
Bradley's collaborative efforts with players, which made his CFL cards so unique, continue with the Alumni cards. In the eight series produced to date, Bradley has included athletes who played in the CFL from the 1950s through the 2000s. A number of these men have earned enshrinement in Hamilton, Among those who made the CFL Hall Of Fame include George Reed, who held the league's career rushing yardage mark for more than three decades. Not only did the career Roughrider appear in the initial Alumni set (#1), he also appeared in the Saskatchewan Alumni collection (#21). Former CFL linebacker Leo Ezerins, who founded the Alumni Association and gave JOGO permission to proceed with an Alumni collection, also appears in the set on card #13. Other noteworthy CFL alums include Milt Stegall (#85), who set career records for receptions and reception yardage, and Jeff Garcia (#122), whose pro career started in the CFL before moving onto further success in the NFL. All included have an active say in the text. These cards let collectors know what they did, what they're doing, and sometimes contain contact information for their fans.
The pre-Alumni JOGO cards distinguished themselves with a lack of box stats that are routine on so many American cards. That feature remains in the later efforts. JOGO does remind collectors, however, how long these men played in the pros (including NFL time, where applicable), the position each man played, and whether or not these men are natives of Canada. Some American-born players continue to make Canada their home once their playing careers came to an end. One thing that did change with the Alumni cards, though, is photo selection. A few cards have just one photo on the front, but most have two or three to include all the teams of their playing days, or to include a present-day shot. Generations of CFL playing families have also been included in the set, including CFL Hall Of Fame player Kaye Vaughan (#100) and his son Jake (#101). Fellow Hall Of Famer Wayne Harris (#141) has his own card, as well as appearing on an unumbered one with his sons, Wayne, Jr., and Cooper.
The CFL Alumni sets show that JOGO has adapted to the changing sportscard market well. This is an era where many sports leagues have decided that one company will manufacture cards for their active players exclusively, leaving these companies to flood the card market all by themselves. It's not that JOGO ever flooded the market with CFL cards, but now, Upper Deck has ensured that CFL cards of current players aren't being made in Canada. National color and a personal touch have always defined JOGO products, and as long as Bradley keeps making them, I expect to keep buying them. He has created something unique in this day and age of trading cards - and he did it with the understanding of the limited appeal of the CFL card market. However, his collector friends and small circle of dealers help JOGO to maintain some niche in the card collecting market.