I don’t know how long Fleer has been out of the baseball card business, but in my opinion they never really gave themselves a great chance to capture the collector’s heart or dollar. I’ve kind of bashed Fleer here and here, so I am going to try to provide constructive criticism this time around.
What I want to do is break down the first 6-7 issues that Fleer came out with when they entered ‘our world’ of baseball cards. In my opinion, they did very little to draw us in, and when they did the feeling only lasted for brief moments and it could have been one of those ‘too little, too late’ scenarios…
Check this out:
In 1981 Fleer’s first baseball card set was released. Like any new start-up company it was nice to see some competition. And anyone who had been collecting Topps found either a new company to go after as well or found a foe. Either way, the debut product was not too bad. The design was basic and lacked character, but the expectations of a new company back in 1981 shouldn’t be too high. The card lacked action photography and used quite a bit of the ‘cheesy baseball poses’ that you often find in cards of little league kids, but this could have a lot to do with the technology that Fleer had available to them back in ’81.
One year later with the 1982 product, Fleer took a step backwards. With virtually the same card design, they removed 2 key elements that should be part of ‘Baseball Card Design 101’. Gone was the team logo as well as the Fleer logo. Brand recognition is huge in all aspects of Marketing and Advertising, and Fleer made a huge mistake as a start up company by not putting their logo in the consumer’s face each chance it got. Still very little action photography. And when it was done, they tended to cut out the background action and just leave the player as the focus. Sometimes it went as far as not even showing the feature player’s full photo.
The 1983 Fleer product was voted ‘Worst Design of the 1980’s’ by my readers. Fleer switched to a color border, and made a terrible color choice by avoiding traditional baseball colors and using one that is dull. Their action photography improved, yet it was used little. They did the right thing by bringing back the team logo as well as the Fleer trademark. But, this was now the 3rd year in a row that Fleer issued a card with the same basic design, which surely bored the collector.
In 1984, Fleer took a departure from their base design and finally got on board with creativity. Although the 1984 Fleer product was not the best looking card issued in ’84 it was a big upgrade for Fleer. The simple design highlighted by a true ‘baseball blue’ pattern was the right move. This upgrade took 4 years to get to, but finally made their product stand out from previous issues. The 1984 Fleer set was the second set I built as a kid-collector and I really started to like the Fleer product once I saw these cards. The photos had evolved to be on par with the other brands, and their use and placement of the team logo really stood out against the background of the card.
1985 was Fleer’s most innovative design to date. Their incorporation of the team colors really made this design a winner. While still using quite a bit of posed/non-action photography, the colored borders and team concept of the card made the overall design work very well. Fleer’s ability to create new and never seen before designs with the ’84 and ’85 product made us forget about the monotone issues that preceded these in the early 80’s. Fleer was on track to break through and become a force in the hobby of baseball card collecting.
Then, it happened. They did exactly what they needed to avoid. The 1986 Fleer product was an exact duplicate of what they had issued in the early 1980’s. Gone was the unique design. Gone were the bright colors. Gone were the sharp photos. Instead, Fleer took steps backwards and reissued the 1983 set again with a new color border. For starters, a dark navy border is a terrible choice as it makes all of the pictures look darker. Not only that, but the ’83 issue had already been a re-hash of the ’81 and ’82 sets.
So here were are after 6 years in the business and Fleer has issued to us a new product each year. The catch is that 4 of the 6 designs look virtually the same. I remember having albums and albums of my favorite players, and the Fleer stuff just blended together. If it hadn’t been for the sweet and new looks of the 1984 and 1985 sets, who knows if they would have even made it through the 1980’s…