Saturday, January 3, 2015

The First Hobby Casualty of 2015

Just three days into 2015 and the hobby has suffered its first casualty of attrition. Press Pass Inc., which has been primarily identified as the licensed manufacturer of NASCAR trading card products, has closed their doors. This, according to a single Tweet by ESPN business analyst, Darren Rovell.

"Sports card manufacturer Press Pass is closing its doors. Hard to stay healthy these days."

The statement has yet to be substantiated by a hobby related news source. Additionally, no comment or statement has been made by Press Pass executives. The company's website and social media channels are still live. 

In actuality, Press Pass' social media activity and engagement has been among the worst in the hobby. The company's last Tweet was in May of 2014 and their last post on Facebook was just before Thanksgiving.


The writing was on the wall for the company's demise several months ago when the company lost the brains behind the operation in hobby veteran, Tom Farrell. Add to that casualty the loss of longtime employees Jesse Leadbetter and Tonya Clarkston and it didn't take a crystal ball to realize it was when and not if, the company would fold.

In an ever complicated and expensive marketplace, Press Pass became a victim of their own success to some degree. Let me explain.

Unlike the hobby's major four sports, which rely heavily on rookies to drive product sales, NASCAR is a different animal all together. In the other sports, trading card manufacturers not only have the luxury of having a deep well of veteran stars to build into their products, but also an annual infusion of new and promising young rookies.

Press Pass made excellent trading card products. They always have. Even before the collegiate licensing landscape became so expensive, their NCAA football and basketball products were highlighted by on-card autographs and boxes loaded with value.

The company's portfolio of NASCAR products was perfectly balanced between entry level and premium brands. NASCAR fans and collectors had no shortage of card products to open. And that became a major problem. 

Through the years the market became flooded with autographs of top tier drivers like Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr.. The consequence of this was the constantly decreasing valuation for autographs of the sports best drivers. It also accentuated a significant problem shared by all trading card manufacturers and that is the fact that, in this case, a driver's signature isn't worth considerably more when it originates from a $200. This is especially true when the same driver's autograph can be pulled with as much frequency in an $80 product.

While initial demand for premium NASCAR products was received with all the passion as that of collectors from other sports, it couldn't last. How could it?

When your product configuration and value proposition is based on the same formula multiple times per year, year-after-year, what you have created is an unsustainable business model. 

It's a shame. The aforementioned people at Press Pass are good people and were an asset to the hobby. Unfortunately, when you are a company in the business of manufacturing a product whose very existence decreases in value with every new release, sooner or later you are going to go bust.

So what's a NASCAR collector to do? It may not happen immediately, but somebody will probably pick-up the license if the price is right. Will it be Upper Deck, who once held a NASCAR license under the MAXX brand? Or maybe the always aggressive, Brian Gray, at Leaf will look to enter the market. 

While it certainly will be tempting given the popularity of the racing circuit, a prudent and careful product development team will need to avoid the aforementioned pitfalls while still delivering a product consumers want.

Chances are this will not be the last shake-up in the trading card landscape. It's become quite clear that Topps parent company, Madison Dearborn Partners, is looking to liquidate the company.

Couple that with the fact that Upper Deck is set to lose their deal with the Collegiate Licensing Company and you have some interesting possibilities taking shape for 2015.

All the best to the remaining and former staff at Press Pass.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Bogus Authenticator Drew Max Crawls Out From Under Rock of Obscurity.

Bogus Autographs. Forgeries. Fraud. These are terms in the hobby that really get my dander up. But when people in trusted positions of power turn a blind eye to expert opinion and defraud unsuspecting fans and collectors anyway, well, that is a whole other level of scumbug.

Meet Bergen County, New Jersey prosecutor, John Molinelli. After seizing dozens of sports memorabilia items from a felon to secure restitution as part of the criminal's sentencing, Molinelli had the collection examined by Robert Lifson of Robert Edward Auctions. Upon examination, he determined that the majority of the items "were garbage" and had "no value". He attested to this in court documents that went ignored by Molinelli.

Molinelli, left holding the bag, needed to find someone to authenticate the bogus material prior to the county's public auction. Enter Drew Max. You might remember Mr. Max from the TV show Pawn Stars, before store owner and Rick Harrison and the show's producers obviously received an education about Max's less than reputable standing in the hobby. How bad is it? None of the major auction houses, SCP, Lelands, Heritage, etc. will accept any Drew Max authenticated item in their auctions.

Molinelli paid Max, $10K, that's $10,000 to authenticate the bogus material. Obviously for that kind of payday, a man who has been pushed to the fringe of the industry would authenticate just about anything and that is exactly what he did.

PIX 11 News in New Jersey reported on this particular event. Here is the news segment in its entirety.



Friday, April 25, 2014

Time For a Change When it Comes to New Products?

More and more collectors I personally know, have stopped purchasing unopened boxes of new product. Thankfully the hobby has seen that void filled, in recent years, by the case breaking phenomon. Without them, the amount of new singles on the secondary market would be at an all-time low.

For the most part, I have outgrown the need to purchase boxes of the latest "hot" hobby product. Sure, occasionally I get sucked in like everybody else but more often than not the post purchase experience is one of regret and not satisfaction. Why? Because, I'd rather take that money spent on a box of the latest and greatest and just buy the singles and hits I want from the product direct on the secondary market.

I'm not alone in this feeling or practice and I don't believe it bodes well for manufactures and retailers. So what can be done to harness the dollars being spent on the secondary market from a manufacturers standpoint? I believe it's time to re-envision the product configuration of a box of trading cards.