Rick Moses, 36, has collected sports trading cards since he was a teenager. Even though he knew a lot about collecting, he found himself in a whole new ball game when he started Ultimate Line-Up Inc., the only African American-owned company licensed to produce Major League Baseball and National Hockey League card games.
"I took a few knocks because I didn't understand the business side of the industry," explains Moses. Undaunted, he followed the industry closely, attended trade shows and studied existing products to learn what worked and what didn't and why. "Fortunately, I also met some people who held my hand and taught me a lot during that period."
Moses was still working as a facilities engineer for Chevron when he formed Ultimate Line-Up in Pleasanton, California, in 1996. While attending a national toy and game trade show in New York, he found investors willing to back his concepts. After several presentations, he raised $500,000 to get started. Soon, with interest in his product from Major League Baseball and the National Hockey League, he made a full: time commitment to the company. Now, four years later, what was a hobby has become a growing business. Last year, the company grossed close to $600,000.
Despite launching his company with money from investors, Moses retains controlling interest and owns all of the trademarks and copyrights. Contract professionals provide the graphic designs and the cards are manufactured by Upper Deck, a leading trading card producer. Moses is presently seeking a manufacturer in the Pacific Rim, a move that will greatly reduce costs.
Convincing the Baseball Players Association to license his cards was an expensive but essential step. "Without licensing, retailers are unwilling to carry the products and league players could not be featured in their team uniforms on the cards," says Moses.
Fees are determined by the popularity of the sport. For instance, licensing from Major League Baseball costs $30,000 a year, plus 7% royalty. The NBA licensing agreement is the most expensive and is out of his reach for the moment.
Ultimate Line-Up's gin rummy-style sports game for youth and young adults is sold in national retailers such as Toys `B' Us, Kmart and Genesis National Pro Sports Catalog, as well as in the Baseball Hall of Fame and some hobby shops. At $7.99 retail, the game is selling very well, a fact Moses attributes to its simplicity. Because the game doesn't require an extensive knowledge of sports trivia, it appeals to casual as well as die-hard fans.
Ultimate Line-Up also designs vinyl posters, and recently contracted to design a display for a fast-food tie-in with Marvel Comics' animated film, X-Men, which is scheduled for release this spring.
Owning Ultimate Line-Up allows Moses to spend as much time with his hobby as he likes and still make a profitable living, a claim few business owners can make.
Ultimate Line-Up, P.O. Box 11585, Pleasanton, CA 94588; 510-290-0168.