Full Circle: MLL Players Excited about New Trading Card Partnership

PHOTO BY RON CHENOY

Niko Amato was voted as an MLL-Star while competing with the Chesapeake Bayhawks.


Chesapeake Bayhawks goalie Niko Amato has been a fan of Major League Lacrosse since he was a child. He grew up in Conshohocken, Pa., which is about 15 miles away from Philadelphia. He was a season ticket holder for the Philadelphia Barrage.

Despite folding in 2008, the Barrage — one of the league’s original teams — had an impressive history. The team won three championships, which is still tied for second-most in MLL history. They are also the only MLL team to appear in the championship game and not lose.

For Amato, however, it wasn’t a specific win or even game that was his favorite moment.

“One of the cool things was that I was getting private lessons with Brian Dougherty at the time,” he said. “I think it was the All-Star Game, I can’t remember what year, and everyone was hanging out on the field watching their fellow teammates do the skills competitions and the fastest shot competitions. They had player trading cards at the time, and I was able to get on the field and have some of my favorite players sign some of those cards, including Doc. That was one of my more memorable experiences.”

Amato has grown up and has a couple things in common with his childhood idol. Not only are they both MLL Goaltenders of the Year, Amato is now also featured on a trading card and finds himself autographing them for kids that come to games.

The cards are issued by Parkside Collectibles, who was announced as an officially licensed trading cards partner of Major League Lacrosse in April of 2019.

The cards have been in circulation since the beginning of the 2019 season, but lacrosse wasn’t the original inspiration for the company.

“I had always been a collector. Erik Christensen, who is the co-founder, and I both have daughters,” said Mat Peek, the other co-founder of Parkside Collectibles. “We realized the [U.S.] Women’s National Soccer Team and National Women’s Soccer League didn’t have good representation in that space. Parkside was born trying to get our daughters women’s soccer cards.”

Due to licensing regulations with U.S. Soccer and FIFA, Peek said they may have bitten off more than they could chew. Peek is a native of Maryland, however, and his brother — Jeff — played lacrosse at Towson and for the Major Indoor Lacrosse League’s Baltimore Thunder.







Familiar with the game of lacrosse and a follower of MLL, Peek said they thought the league would be a perfect fit for their upstart collectibles company.

“It took about a year to get done, but they were very interested and receptive,” Peek said of the league. “We did a lot of research before calling and reaching out. One substantial trend [at MLL games] was the kids getting their autograph on the t-shirt they wore to the game or a lacrosse ball. Neither of those are really archival. The t-shirt doesn’t last long unless some miracle solvent keeps that marker in there, and the lacrosse ball is absorbent. We kept saying, ‘If we do our job right, there’s kids holding cards with their favorite players, and they’ll last forever.’”

Creating connections between the fans and the players was paramount for MLL in the partnership with Parkside Collectibles.

“Trading cards have been a cornerstone of sports for decades,” said Carrie Gamper, MLL Director of Marketing, in the league’s press release announcing the partnership. “They allow for a tangible connection between a fan and their hero. The MLL has the great privilege of fielding so many aspirational athletes across our six teams and we look forward to working with Parkside to bring these athletes to the fans in such an authentic and personal way.”

The collection features a 150-card base set of players, coaches, and mascots from around the league. There are also specialty cards which include the “Signature Series” of autograph cards and “Gummy Arts” subset with illustrations of MLL players by Mike Noren. There are also cards that can be exchanged for a complimentary game ticket to any MLL game.

Peek said a lot of research went into which players to feature, from the known superstars to the lesser-heralded players who were fan favorites. The mascots, he said, were a no-brainer, because they were a huge part of the game and the league for kids. Another important part of MLL games — particularly in Denver — that made his way into the set of cards was Denver Outlaws superfan JoJo War Drummer.

“You can’t miss him banging on his drum screaming and yelling. He’s that superfan that demands your attention and affection and doing a great job growing the game,” Peek said. “JoJo was a necessity for our first-year set.”

JoJo War Drummer was blown away by the idea he’d be on a card and the reaction he has gotten from fans.

“A lot of Denver Outlaws fans are fans of mine,” he said. “They respect what I do with the war drum and everything. One of the guys he got the cards and he gave me one. I said, ‘No, I can’t take your card,’ and he said, ‘JoJo, I have a whole bunch of them.’ I said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me.’ He said, ‘No. I’m a Denver Outlaws fan, but I’m also a fan of what you do.’ Is that crazy or what?”

Peek and Christensen soon realized how quickly the professional lacrosse landscape can change, however. Weeks before the start of the 2019 season, three teams — the Charlotte Hounds, Florida Launch, and Ohio Machine — ceased operations, leaving players like Kevin Crowley, Bryce Wasserman, and Jake Withers on cards that said they played for teams that no longer existed.

The co-founders of Parkside Collectibles took it in stride, however.

“There’s no point in telling a lie,” Peek said. “Initially, we were scared, but we had the conversation where the explanation was given, and we bought into it. It was an opportunity where we did make some small changes. You’ll notice, we managed to get a Dylan Molloy card in the set. There’s a parallel series of base cards that are black and white, and they’re borderless. We made them of the bigger stars to be a beautiful palate for autographs.”

From fan reaction at games, social media videos of fans opening a pack of cards, or emails from the players, the response to the cards has been very favorable.

“It’s really cool,” Amato said. “I’ve been passing some of them out to family and friends. Growing up, I collected all types of sports cards, so to have me playing a sport on a card is really cool. It’s something I treasure.”

Peek said he is a fan of the direction Major League Lacrosse is moving in and expects big things to come in the near future.

He also is excited for Parkside Collectibles to be chronicling the league’s history for many years in the future.

“We made the first official MLL trading card of Rob Pannell,” he said. “He’s going to be in the US Lacrosse Hall of Fame. He’ll be one of the greatest to play the game. He’ll probably have a vibrant career beyond lacrosse. We made his rookie card. We made Lyle Thompson’s first official MLL trading card.

“if you’re not excited about the possibility of the future, I feel you’re not paying attention,” he added. “It’ll be a lot of fun being the guys who do the trading cards because we’ll be around for the ride.”

 

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