Friday, January 16, 2009

2009 State of the Hobby- A Make or Break Year?

Like most hobbies, sports trading cards rely on consumers having discretionary income to thrive. With the country in the throes of the worst economic recession since the Great Depression, 2009 will be a very pivotal year for an industry that has seen continual revenue declines over the past several years.

The measures taken a few years ago by the MLBPA to reinvigorate the hobby market have done little in the way of enhancing the collectibles experience as a whole. Whether you measure the state of the Hobby by a decline in sales, store closings, decreased values on the secondary market, or lack-luster product releases, the truth is in the cards, something has to change.

Several rules were instituted by the MLBPA to supposedly increase demand, decrease supply and in theory bolster collectible values. Some of the more significant measures included;

- Limiting the number of annual sport specific product releases

- Delaying the release of a given years product until that calendar year

- Instituing rules to define a rookie and the subsequent creation of the rookie card logo

- Limiting the number of retired players allowed into a product's checklist

At the time we were told that these changes would "unclutter" the amount of product, causing existing products to have a longer shelf life, encourage set collectors, create simplicity for the casual fan to participate in Rookie Card collecting and more.

Have those rules accomplished those objectives? I don't think so. First and foremost the RC logo fiasco carries no weight with the likes of Donruss Elite and Bowman Draft Pick's and Prospects allowed to exist in the market. Are we really supposed to believe that a 2008 Bowman Chrome, "1st Bowman Card" isn't a players rookie card simply because it doesn't have a logo making it so? How exactly has this cleared the confusion the rule change had originally intended accomplish?

Collectors, like myself, disenfranchised with players from the Steroid Era, used to be able to collect numerous retired only player products to maintain their hobby interest. Now such classic products like SP Legendary Cuts, All-Stars, National Pastime, Archives, Fan Favorites and more have either been killed off completely or in the case of SP Legendary Cuts have become so watered down they are a shell of their former-selves.

With only a limited number of products released each year and the MLBPA and leauge demanding a large marketing investment geared towards younger collectors, real collectors are left with worthless products like 1st Edition, Opening Day, Documentary, Timelines, and UDX to name a few.

What the rules have managed to do is create a glut of worthless product, so in the sense of extending a product's shelf life that goal has been accomplished. However, I don't think that collecting dust and being repacked in multi-pack format for retail distribution is what the various suits and talking heads had in mind.

Everyone nows that card manufactures are in business to make money, but how are they going to do that with one hand proverbially tied behind their back?

What has essentially happened is that we have seen the demise of mid-range products and much like the rest of country are becoming a population of the haves, and have nots, systematically eroding the middle class.

There will always be a core of people who purchase high-end product for the thrill and the gamble of the experience and obviously the card manufacturers will continue to cater to that profitable segment.

The demands on manufactures by their licensing partners insure that their will be plenty of low-end filler for the supposed kids who collect.

The real question is what is the industry, as a whole, going to do for the real collector? Those willing to spend $5-$20 per pack who appreciate quality memorabilia and autograph cards and are set, team,and player collectors?

You can be damn sure that Piece of History, UDx, yet another round of Allen & Ginter or Goudey, Spectrum, Timelines, and Documentary simply aren't going to cut it.


Dave said...

I totally agree with you, Rob. I hope that the card companies renegotiate the MLBPA rules as soon as they can!

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