Pinnacle Brands

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Pinnacle Brands: Pinnacle Brands is a defunct trading card manufacturer active from 1986-98. At one point it had licenses with MLB/MLBPA, NFL/NFLPA, NHL/NHLPA, NASCAR, and the WNBA. At one time it owned the rights to the Action Packed, Donruss, Leaf, and Score brand names. After going bankrupt, it's remaining trading card assets were purchased by Playoff, Inc -- which now does business as Panini America.

In the mid-'80s, Optigraphics (makers of the popular Kellogg's 3-D baseball cards and baseball coins for the 7-11 convenience store chain) attempted to get in on the burgeoning sports card market with Sportflics. Sportflics were 3-D "lenticular" cards that were initially popular but widely scorned due to their high cost. In 1988, they introduced Score baseball, the first set to use full-color photos on the card backs. The company grew and did quite well until they started expanding through acquisitions in the mid-'90s. In 1994, the newly re-christened "Pinnacle Brands" purchased Action Packed, makers of embossed football and racing cards, and in 1996 bought out Donruss.

Then things started to go haywire. Pinnacle had filled their company with employees with little, if any, experience in sports cards at any level (collector, dealer or otherwise). By 1997 this lack of understanding of how The Hobby operates started to bear fruit. The lingering effects of the baseball strike and hockey lockout had contracted the sports card market faster than they understood, and they started flooding the market to maintain their market share. Their products began to rely on gimmicks, like packaging their cards inside soup cans (1997 Pinnacle Inside), embedded smaller within other larger cards (1998 Zenith), and bizarrely fractured sets made up of cards with all kinds of different frequency (Fractal Matrix). Needless to say, with all these gimmicks and products that didn't serve much of a purpose, Pinnacle began to lose buckets of credibility. It got so bad that in early 1998, a group of dealers in Florida attempted to organize a boycott of Pinnacle products.

In the summer of 1998, after merger talks with Upper Deck and Fleer fell through, Pinnacle Brands filed for bankruptcy. At the time, Pinnacle had assets of only $68 million, and debts of over $300 million! Their assets were purchased at auction by Playoff, Inc. for less than $10 million, who, not coincidentally, is based in the same city (Grand Prairie, Texas) as Pinnacle. Playoff used their football license to issue successful sets under old Donruss names of Elite and Leaf. Playoff applied for but were denied a license for two-and-a-half years to print baseball cards out of fears that another MLB licensee would add more product in an already glutted marketplace.

All this is interesting because Playoff was started in 1993 as the result of the divorce of the owner of Score (which was later renamed Pinnacle Brands). He kept the name and the wife kept the company, which was renamed Playoff. Or maybe vice-versa. That's why they were both in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Either way, the Score of 1993-on was significantly different from earlier versions. And now Playoff produces cards under the Score and Score-owned names. I don't know if any of the divorce stuff is true, but it's great hobby lore.