Reopening the Stale Discussion on Bringing Kids Back to the Hobby

Back in the 1990s, before smart phones, before XBOX, before anything like we know today, collecting cards were popular with kids. If that seems like ancient history, its because it is ancient history, but that doesnt stop people from literally tearing off this scab year after year after year. Its the one discussion that no one seems to want to close, and the one effort that no one wants to give up.

The notion of bringing that mass of kids back to the hobby isnt new, but the methods in which the card companies think it is possible dont seem to be either. Despite some great new tools and technology, all of which would be prime real estate to market a certain way, the card companies seem to trot out the same tired ideas with the understanding that it might accomplish the goal that hasnt been accomplished for over 20 years.

Over the weekend, Topps announced a new baseball set called “Big League,” whose sell sheet featured the tag line “Kids have spoken and Topps has listened.” Besides being just another cheap product, the tagline is so infuriating, I dont know what to say. Basically, one side of the argument is that bringing kids back will bring back a ton of money that has since left the hobby. Another side believes that bringing kids back will stave off the death of the industry itself, with new blood eventually growing up and becoming the future market the hobby needs to survive. Some believe both. I believe all of these arguments are valid, but also too expensive and worthless to try to execute. As a father of kids who make up the target market for products like Big League, I can almost certainly laugh at the approach.

First, my son loves opening packs. He likes baseball cards, he likes football cards, and he LOVES Pokemon cards. He likes the thrill of the unknown and pulling something that seems valuable. He also hates “kid products” because he knows there is rarely anything worth while in a pack of those cards. He wants to open the stuff I open, get the same shot at autographs that I do. His friends that he plays with are exactly the same way. I even took a group of them to the hobby shop and let them all pick out some packs for my son’s birthday. Guess what? None of them chose products like Big League will be – unless something fundamentally changes between what was discussed in the sell sheet and what hits the shelves.

The reason is that kids hate being pandered to. They want to feel like they are adults, even though the sentiment is likely the opposite for adults that open packs. Adults want to reclaim youth, and for many adults, that includes opening packs of baseball cards.

Personally, Big League feels like Topps is paying off a ransom demanded by either the league or by the retail marketing arms of Target and Wal Mart. Retail SKUs are so important to a product like this, not because so many of the people buying packs are kids, but because it provides access to a market that might be 1000 times the size of any local hobby shop. Maybe even 10000 times.

Putting cards in the aisles means access, and im sure that retail giants still believe that kids are inherently a target market for cards, just like they were 20 years ago. Excell marketing probably doesnt argue, despite the fact that so many of the consumers are adults.

Regardless of this approach, the product doesnt really go a direction that is that much different than other products occupying the same space. If that is the situation, what makes anyone believe this approach is better than any of the other products.

Well, any of the other products save two. There have been two products that could have taken a VASTLY different road to the same goal, a road that should have been MUCH more successful than it was. Those products were Topps Bunt and Topps Star Wars Card Trader. Both products were physical digital crossover sets that could have exploited the one thing that was never available back in the 1990s when everything started to go to shit – 24 hour access to a game that uses cards as a main driver of entertainment.

There are a number of things that my sons find entertainment in over ripping packs of cards – their iPad. Not only do they spend more time on the iPad than watching TV, but they absolutely love it. Providing access to cards through their digital appetite is something that should be at the front of any strategy that looks to reclaim children’s small attention span.

Instead, Bunt was left to rot on the vine, with the digital team taking very little interest in driving exclusive content only available in packs of the physical product. At least, from my perspective, that’s what it felt like. Im sure they saw it as a burden, trying to help the physical team gain access to their massive user base, instead of a true gateway for children to buy cheap packs and get direct content delivered through their phones at the same time.

Topps could have built a giant campaign around it, doing the things that they have tried over and over again with cheap and terrible products that never offered anything more than a more inexpensive price tag. It comes down to a very simple concept – why are you trying to capture a market through a method that none of them use? Its like trying to sell people cable subscription packages at a cord cutters convention. Not a great approach.

Digital is the answer, but at that same time, the apps havent exactly been kid friendly lately either. Most of the digital apps from any of the companies realized pretty quickly that they had to sell a lot of content to people with actual money to stay funded by companies with no experience building video games. That’s entirely the wrong approach, as we have seen with how Pokemon incorporates a digital element to all of their apps and games.

Im not saying Big League wont be a fun product. It looks good. Im just saying it wont do anything like what it is supposed to do. Its not because kids dont like cards when they are exposed to them, its that the way to capture kids isnt through offerings built around the same set configuration, just less expensive.

Right now, its better to invest in adults with money, as it is less expensive to execute and seems to be more accessible through adults and their die hard fandom surrounding their favorite sports teams. Kids dont experience sports like that unless they have parents that do, and just like cards, adults who collect should bring in more kids that collect.

I just hope that down the road people stop acting like Helen Lovejoy and wondering why people wont think of the children. I want the companies to spend money investing in things that might actually make a difference. A well funded and well executed digital strategy is that answer, and if Topps or Panini could help both the leagues and the mass retailers understand how important that is, I think my refrain would be different.

On Shelves Now: 2017 Panini Select Football

A number of years ago, Panini made a decision. They determined it was better to model their calendar after Topps’ major success in football, then to reinvent the wheel. To do so, they mapped out all of the chrome based products Topps had brought to the market, and created brands that would be the Panini equivalent. For Chrome, Prizm became their brand, and for many years was unable to measure up to the juggernaut that ran the football hobby attention span. For Bowman Sterling, Panini built Spectra, which was identical in configuration, but offered on card autos (at least before the bastardized version we get today). Lastly was Topps Finest, upon which they created Select, a set that has actually been pretty nice since its inception.

Here are some of the bigger hits up so far:

2017 Select Deshaun Watson Tag Patch Auto 1/1

2017 Select Mitchell Trubisky Jumbo Patch Auto Tie Dye /10

2017 Select Carson Wentz Patch Auto Emerald /5

2017 Select Dalvin Cook Jumbo Prime Patch Auto Logo /5

2017 Select Jerome Bettis Emerald Die Cut Auto /5

To this day, all three products have found it very difficult to reclaim the collector loyalty that was rock solid with the Topps versions of these products. Although all three have really taken on a brand of their own, somewhat thanks to Basketball, the original concept remains – replacements for fan favorite Topps products. Select is really the one I appreciate the most, even though Prizm has been very good as well. It removes a lot of the weird elements of Finest, and replaces it with some very good looking cards. Adding in the XRC concept has breathed new life into the brand, and now makes it one of my favorite boxes to open.

The only problem with Select is the same problem that finest faced before its last year in 2015. Boxes are supremely unpredictable. This year’s product seems to have an even larger problem with this, as collation seems to have been done so that a few boxes per case have all the nicer hits. Finest struggled because 7 boxes out of 10 had nothing in them, and though this is MUCH better with veteran and rookie content combined, the collation presents huge problems for people busting a box here and there.

Either way, Chrome based products still have the advantage of value present in non “box hit” content, and Select takes that to a level that even Prizm cant touch. Additionally with more added numbered content, the serially stamped parallels for rookies are worth diving into any of the boxes in the case, not just the 5 with all the major hits.

Moving onto the XRCs, Panini made the great decision to add rare autographed parallels of the players in the set. People are speculating that the number of the XRC autograph is the draft pick number, but I can almost guarantee that wont be the case. Regardless of who is on the card, these XRCs make the product that much better and I wish that this concept was used more frequently. Obviously the cost of issuing THOUSANDS of redemptions on purpose is likely too high to make it a widespread program, but I would love to see it more.

Lastly, this Topps-less atmosphere is still without oxygen, especially as we become further removed from Chrome and the like. Select helps a little bit, but not enough for me to forgive the bitterness still left behind by the removal of the most popular products in football.

On Shelves Now: 2018 Topps Baseball Series 1

I still find it crazy that every year this is still an event. Not only does it signify the beginning of the card year for Baseball, but it is still the most widely purchased product in all of cards, at least from my understanding of the matter. Topps puts a lot of effort behind making this a huge deal, especially on the marketing side, and for the most part, they have been quite successful. They continue to add content, and the legacy of this set continues to grow. With Aaron Judge’s RC season behind us, and no clear replacement in sight, its going to be interesting to see how this year plays out.

Here are some of the top hits posted so far from Series 1:

2018 Topps Series 1 Aaron Judge Image Variation 2 SSP

2018 Topps Series 1 Mike Trout 1983 Silver Pack Red Refractor Auto /5

2018 Topps Series 1 Corey Seager Auto Relic

2018 Topps Series 1 Masahiro Tanaka 1/1 Sketch

2018 Topps Series 1 Bryce Harper In the Name Letter Patch

After a look last year that definitely was a bit off the beaten trail, 2018 looks great. About as good as it has looked in previous years. They are sticking with a borderless approach, and it seems to be working well for them despite breaking from the history of the set in a very distinct fashion. Its a big risk when you consider the overly anal tendencies of the collecting public, but I think its one that is worth taking.

For me, Topps’ yearly base set was never really a focus, as most of my collection centers around autographs and higher end examples of my PC players. I also realize that in Baseball, that type of collecting focus is still overshadowed in some senses, mainly because of the history involved with collecting sets and the importance of base cards.

Topps has added in a lot more high end content with each passing year, and I do chase some of the specific examples of that strategy. Outside of that, the baseball collecting public still breaks out their needs and wants each year, and though the overall group may shrink each year, the added high end content seems to bring back a lot of other people when the set first hits.

Like most products across all sports this set doesnt have a great shelf life, especially considering that there are still 2-3 more versions of base sets still to come. Series 2 hits later, with update to follow, and Topps Chrome mixed in between. The dilution has helped to sustain momentum across the entire calendar year, but it doesnt help when old products sit.

Missing from this year is any involvement with Topps Bunt, which was a cool addition to the sets in years prior. Now that Bunt has its own product, I can see where they dont want the trouble of digital involvement for two sets, but the redemptions were always a huge hit in prior examples of the crossover.

My only real design complaint over the last few years has been the inserts, which have always felt like an afterthought. This year, I have been quite satisfied with the look of many of the sets, and the 1983 Topps inserts that have replaced the 1987 ones from 2017.

Overall, another year another set, and Im curious if there is sustainability here that wasnt something that looked possible before. Somehow, some way, Topps has found ways to keep this set relevant, and each year I am more and more shocked that they increase production to meet demand. I guess this is a true representation that the hobby does still have a place for Series 1 in their hearts.

On the Radar: 2017 National Treasures Football Product Preview

Panini has gotten into the habit of photographing events lately, including ones like happened this past weekend. During those events, Panini spends a lot of time getting sets like NT and Flawless signed, which means previews are here for a set that many collectors look forward to every year. I thought 2016 NT was a good looking set, as was 2015. Its like they are finally getting their shit together on these high end products, and I couldnt be happier. If we could make it so that there were no more stickers in a box that costs this much, I might be a lot happier than I am.

This year’s sets have some very interesting small changes and most of them look pretty good. I think the RPA design is another in a longer line of good looking versions, and much to my appreciation, it looks like the base version is horizontal in orientation. This means the design has a lot more room to breathe, instead of seeing photos squashed against borders.

As they have since the beginning, the booklets also look great, with a big focus on a minimal design, and big areas to sign. This hasnt always been the case, but Im glad it is this time around. Booklets havent really caught on with NT, which is unfortunate in a lot of different ways. Not only have the booklets been consistently good looking since they began their run in the product, but they have some really nice patches to boot. People are way too fucking involved in outdated “true RC” designation bullshit and I can say there are few things collectors do that bother me more. If people just appreciated and paid a premium for the better looking cards in any given product, things would be a lot different in the way the companies produce sets.

Overall, this is looking like a good year of NT, but it all depends on a few things. How many of the goofy ass posed photos they use and how much of the set adheres to the same quality set by the previews we have already gotten. Lots on the line with a rookie class that had so many injuries to what seem like special players.

Here are the photos:

What Effect Would a Sixth Super Bowl Win Have For Tom Brady’s Cards?

Being that there is no guarantee he even gets a shot, I still wanted to discuss what might happen to cards if Brady wins the AFC championship game with the Patriots coming up, and then goes onto win another Super Bowl to add to his historic total. Right now, Brady is the Babe Ruth of football, already. Would padding his stats do much to his already astronomical value? I think its worth considering. I mean, there are cards out there that are hitting prices that are usually only associated with high grade vintage cards.

Before we get going, I need to show some of these insane prices:

2000 SP Authentic Tom Brady RC PSA 10

2000 Bowman Chrome Tom Brady RC PSA 10

2002 Topps Tom Brady Super Bowl Auto Relic /150

Even just normal autos are insane:

2015 Immaculate Collection Tom Brady Auto /10

First off, let me start by saying that any money put into Brady is good money. Unless he is convicted of some horrible crime, he is the best football player to ever have a big presence in the hobby. Sure, he might be ARGUABLY the best player of all time, but he is WITHOUT A DOUBT the most collectible player. There is a difference there.

No matter how you feel about him, the Patriots, deflategate, whatever – he is the person every collector wants to pull in their box, or at least find unsuspectingly in a bargain bin somewhere. The argument against any real impact is that none of that is going to change. He already has the most titles, he already holds most of the more important records. Piling on doesnt really do much in that regard.

Right now, his cards are so fucking expensive, you almost cant buy them. Its cost prohibitive for most collectors to obtain a collection piece worth of being front and center, and that doesnt even begin to cover what is going on with his main rookie cards that have reached a level usually only reserved for Ruth, Mantle and Jordan.

Being that as it may, im not sure there is that much more of a difference another Super Bowl would add long term. Short term always brings casual collectors looking to chase down a card they would normally have no interest in chasing, but outside of the first six months after he wins, its not like a $25k card is all of a sudden turning into a 50k card. Maybe it becomes a 30k card if there is some fluke of conscience by Patriots collectors looking to add to their PC.

I think there are many more hobby implications if any of the 3 other QBs were to win, especially for a guy like Case Keenum or Blake Bortles. I discussed this more in depth earlier this week, and I would love to see someone crazy win the big game. To be abundantly clear, any of the three guys winning besides Brady would be nuts. I cant even imagine for some of them.

As a whole, Im just insanely excited about the coming games, and being that the Super Bowl is in my backyard only makes it more exciting. Hopefully we get some fun finishes and a lot of intrigue leading into the most important sporting event of the year.