For a long time, I have said that the digital marketplace is the future of cards – offering many more opportunities to reach sports fans that would never have otherwise found the hobby. I have mentioned previously how Topps has broken through into this market with their Huddle and Bunt apps, but I never realized how big of a deal they have become. These digital sports card apps have taken off, and I am a huge fan.
Believe it or not, the digital cards from the app are even being sold for crazy money online! I was pretty shocked:
Starting around week 3 of the NFL season, I discovered the Topps Huddle app, and was immediately hooked. It was basically sports cards combined with fantasy football, two of my biggest obsessions. Obviously I was hooked immediately, frequently building my digital collection to build standing in the game. Now that the playoffs are here, the app has gone into full swing, and I am checking back multiple times a day to get my fix.
Its hard to believe the three Topps Apps are run by a small team of 8 people, who do nothing but build on the platform. They have had IMMENSE success in building an online community, composed mainly of people who are new to the Topps fan base. That’s pretty important for the growth of the industry, and I cant say enough good things about the app.
I had the chance to talk with Mike Salerno, the guy behind the app, and I was impressed by his level of passion and connection to his apps. He has a true investment in the community Topps Bunt and Huddle have created, and that is a very good thing. Sure you cant win on every level, but as a user, I am confident the app is on the rise.
After our conversation, I sent him some questions, so that you all could get some of the gist of my conversation, here are his responses:
Sports Cards Uncensored: Can you do your best Steve Jobs on stage and walk us through a little bit of what the apps (Huddle/Bunt/Kick) can do?
Mike Slaerno: Our three apps are helping revolutionize the trading card industry. We’ve built a place where avid collectors, devoted sports fans and dominant fantasy players can come together to collect, trade and play cards like they never have in the past. Our cards score points based on an algorithm that is similar to fantasy sports, yet all the more complex. Our apps encourage fans to follow along with the games, with an Apple device in hand, tracking what’s going on across the league.
Where fantasy sports have a “set it and forget it” type mindset, we allow for numerous changes of your lineup during the action. Furthermore, you can use more than one of that player’s card. If you’ve got nine Andrew McCutchen cards, you can play all nine.
The news feeds in our apps are constantly buzzing with goings-on around that particular sport, and allows for one of two places for fans to congregate, chat about the games and compare their cards to others. Think of it like a public card show at your local library. But instead of it being once every few months, it’s as many times a day as you’d like.
We’ve built a sense of community in our apps that is unrivaled. Some fans themselves, based on the leaderboards or frequent commenting, have become as popular among users as the players themselves. It’s truly fascinating, and I can’t begin to tell you how fun it is to be a part of it.
SCU: What gave Topps the inspiration to produce an app like this?
MS: A few years ago Topps deemed it high time to enter the digital arena. Since then, it’s been fascinating to see how the market itself has crafted our product, demanding more at each turn. So far, we’ve been thrilled with our progress, but we know there’s plenty more we can still offer our fans and we’re very excited about what’s to come in 2014.
SCU: What are some of the plans for this weekend’s NFL playoff games, and are there any big plans for the pro-bowl and Super Bowl you can talk about yet?
MS: Well, I don’t want to divulge too much information about after this weekend, but right now we’re getting ready to formally launch our Game Breaker boost card set. It’s got 12 cards, three players from each of the four remaining teams, that score points at a 2.5 times a normal card. They won’t be the easiest cards to pull in packs, but they do come with a hefty bonus: the fan who scores the most points of all those who have collected the entire set gets one million coins. It’s the biggest coin bonus we’ve ever awarded in HUDDLE.
SCU: What does 2014 look like for Topps Huddle/Bunt/Kick?
MS: We’re looking to 2014 with big expectations, and that starts with new innovations and features to our apps. We want you to come in to our app and know immediately what’s going on. What cards are currently available, who’s playing, and more importantly how you’re doing. I can’t get too specific but I’m quite confident that our fans are going to love what we’ve got in store, starting with the new version of BUNT that’s set to launch a few weeks before MLB’s Opening Day.
SCU: If this type Topps app market continues to grow, where do you see things going in the future?
MS: In 2013, we established ourselves as a legitimate player in the mobile industry. Looking ahead, we expect our digital division to become as household a name as our physical brand sooner rather than later. We get there by continuing to produce an innovative, enjoyable experience for our users.
SCU: Do you see the digital side of Topps and the tangible cards themselves ever crossing paths? Would Huddle codes ever be inserted in packs of actual cards?
MS: I certainly do. And though I’ve had my head buried in football for a better part of the last six weeks, I believe we’ve already begun that process. Collectors who have long enjoyed physical products might be pleasantly surprised when the insert in their pack brings them into a world of collecting they hardly knew existed.
SCU: Because many people obviously tie the “Topps” brand with actual cards, will there ever be tangible cards associated with the in game experience? IE – pull this card in the app and get it in real life too?
MS: I’m sure that’s been discussed to some degree, but the main difference between our physical and digital departments are how quickly we can produce the cards. We have the privilege of having a fantastic designer on our team who can get you anything you need at what seems like a moment’s notice.
SCU: Any potential to expanding to other platforms, like PC or android?
MS: I think this has been our most frequently asked question since we launched. We continue to explore the ability of bringing our apps to Google Play and the Android market, but I can’t say for sure when we’ll add that version. But believe me, we’re certainly aware that not everyone has an iPhone.
SCU: What is your favorite part of these apps that would be the reason SCU readers should go out and download them immediately?
MS: If you download any of the three apps, catering to your interest of the particular sport, you immediately become part of something bigger. From an administrative end, the most enjoyment I get out of my day is mixing it up with our fans in the comments, chatting about everything from the way a particular card was made to what’s going on in the game.
But as a user, and I’m sure you can attest to this, there’s no greater feeling our app provides than when you open that pack and find the rare insert you’ve been dying to get your hands on, similar to collecting physical products. In that moment, you become a kid again. I can’t get enough of it.
SCU: Any other things you want to talk about that you would like us all to know?
MS: As I said before, our community is the most vital piece of our operation. Without the feedback we constantly receive from our fans, it’s hard to imagine us being as successful, at least not as quickly. We’re grateful to have such loyal, passionate fans and we’re excited to bring forth a lot of new features they themselves have suggested, and a whole lot more they may not have even thought possible.
We are a small, but hungry division of the Topps brand, and we look forward to representing the company proudly again in 2014 and beyond. Here are the links to all three in the App Store:
I would definitely check out these apps, and you wont be sorry. My fan name on Huddle is gellman782 and my fan name on Bunt is SCUncensored. Add me to your leaderboard and we can compete against each other and trade.