The first year Be a Player was introduced was in the 1994-95 season by Upper Deck. The series was a pioneer in the card industry as each pack featured one autograph per pack. The series was insanely popular, evidence of this is that there are very few sealed boxes left and if you managed to find one, you will pay $150 to $200+ a box.
Many of the cards featured players doing something other then playing hockey such as golfing or spending time with family.
1995-96 featured the nicest Be a Player set in my mind. The player selection was very strong and the photos were very unique compared to other card series. On top of a regular autograph, a much tougher die-cut version was available.
1996-97 was the first time that Be a Player was produced by Pinnacle. The cards were nicely designed and the inserts were very creative, especially the Stacking the Pads set. This was the first year that I was able to land a Be a Player pack and I managed to crack two packs thanks to my Grandma.
1997-98 was the second year that Pinnacle produced Be a Player and also their last. It's common to find sealed boxes of series A and B for under $40 a pop. Player selection was somewhat poor, although the three tiers of autographs make it a fun year to collect (regular, foil and foil die-cut).
1998-99 featured a new kid in town producing Be a Player: ITG. The cards were unique and much different then what had previously been produced. A gold foil version is also available on top of the regular autographed version.
1999-00 was a very down year for Be a Player. The cards were somewhat similar with the foil background but now featured some tacky writing on the left hand side.
2000-01 another down year although the design was no where as bad as the year before. The gold versions of the card are actually very nice looking.
2001-02 and ITG is running out of ideas. This years design looks very similar to the previous years. The players union should have pulled the cord on ITG producing Be a Player but they decided to give them one more year to redeem themselves.
2002-03 featured a much better design, although it was not enough for ITG to keep producing the Be a Player set. ITG would soon lose it's NHL license and Be a Player would remain dormant for the next couple seasons. After a poor run of Be a Player with ITG, the collecting world would need some time to forget about the series.
2005-06 featured Be a Player being produced by Upper Deck yet again. The cards designs were fresh and more current for the times. Sadly, some of the cards featured sticker autographs and this would be the last decent year of Be a Player. For the last few years I will simply post scans, with no comments. The designs really do the talking.
The cards above are the Be a Player designs for 06-07, 07-08, 08-09 and 09-10. After the ITG disaster Be a Player stopped being produced and the same is being done now. A very unique idea with the one autograph pack has become more ordinary in the industry now with high end packs featuring several autographs and game used cards. The one per pack autograph in Be a Player now features a very rushed sticker autograph with poor player selection.
For Be a Player to be successful again they need to make the idea fresh again. Bringing back photos featuring players doing something other then hockey like the early years would give the product a more retro feel.
Secondly, it would really help to keep print runs lower. Under 300 would be a good number and this would lead to signatures looking a lot more legible. Furthermore, no more sticker autos in the set, all on card autographs would be very impressive and would appeal to middle budget collectors.
I have a few more ideas but I think I will give the chance for my fellow collectors to speak, so if you have some great ideas on how to improve Be a Player, please post it up in the comments section.