Friday, November 13, 2009

If I Ruled the Hobby

I have talked about this before but the recent decision by the NFLPA to eliminate Topps football card license for the 2010 season really seems to be the icing on the cake of an industry that just can't get it's act together. Over the last few years we have seen the most radical streamlining of licensing the trading card industry has ever seen, starting with the NHL's decision to grant an exclusive license to Upper Deck in 2004. Since that initial bombshell hit The Hobby landscape, we have seen the following happenings and manipulations of the market: (In no particular order)
  • Fleer files for bankruptcy and purchased by Upper Deck
  • Donruss loses MLB license
  • Panini purchases Donruss creating Panini America
  • Panini granted exclusive NBA license
  • Upper Deck granted MLBPA license extension
  • Upper Deck loses MLB license
  • Topps granted exclusive MLB license
  • Upper Deck granted exlusive Collegiate Athletics license
  • Press Pass loses their Collegiate Athletic license
  • Topps loses NFL license
So who makes your officially licensed trading cards?

Football- Panini, Upper Deck

Baseball- Topps

Hockey- Upper Deck

Basketball- Panini

Collegiate Athletics- Upper Deck

So after all these changes who wins and who loses? Well first, and what should be foremost, but clearly isn't, is the FACT, that the collector is the ultimate loser. When it comes to retail consumerism, America can be considered the land of too many choices. Ever walk into a store for something as mundane as contact paper and be presented with 400 choices? I have, and sometimes it's just choice overload, but hey that's capitalism. Personally, as frustrating as these retail purchasing decisions can be, I wouldn't have it any other way. Now apply this principle in reverse to a consumer product category that I am passionate about, and well, quite frankly I'm P.O.'ed.

Exclusivity is never good. This mantra has been repeated throughout the sports card collecting community ad-nauseam but is a FACT. The various leagues and their respective player's associations is squarely where to lay the blame. The exorbitant prices being reported for such exclusive licensing are paramount to extortion simply to line the pockets of an entity, that is already viewed by most lay people as a cash cow. Couple that with the fact that the PA's are more concerned with lining the pockets of its coffers and its current players and collectors are left with the mess we have now.

When I returned to collecting in 2000, I was thrilled to find the inclusion of retired players, fan favorites, legendary heroes, and Hall Of Famers included in the product make-up. Combining heroes and idols of my youth with the popular game used and autograph craze only heightened my excitement for The Hobby once again. Let alone the fact that I had the opportunity to chase and collect relics of some of the games greatest players of all time, and well, simply put, I was a kid in a candy shop. Now, each of the PA's has put stringent wording into its licensing agreements allowing manufacturers to include only a small percentage of retired players in a product's checklist and has eliminated all together retired only player products. So in recent years, long gone are the days of such classic products as Fan Favorites, Greats of the Games, Legendary Cuts, Hall of Fame to name a few. Sure, in some capacity these ideas are included, but one need look no farther than the abomination that the once iconic and landscape changing product, Legendary Cuts, has been forced to morph into.

So enough of the problems, we all know too well what those are. What would I do if I ruled the hobby? I capitalize on individual manufactures strengths, and return choice to the collector. If their was a Sports Trading Card Czar, this is what I would do: (Assuming that the streamlining of licenses is a must and beyond my control)

  1. Eliminate player exclusive contracts
  2. Return the CMG license in baseball to Upper Deck
  3. Grant Upper Deck a retired player only baseball license limited to 6 products per year broken up into price points of 2 low-end, 2 mid-range and 2 high-end.
  4. Keep Topps as the exclusive MLB for current players (25 and 40 man rosters only) limited to 8 products per year broken up into price points of 2 low-end, 4 mid-range and 2 high-end.
  5. Provide In The Game (Hockey) a similar retired only player license for the NHL with a similar product break down as UD's in retired baseball
  6. Let Upper Deck keep the NHL license but for current players only similar to Topps for baseball with similar product limits and breakdown
  7. Let Panini keep their NBA license but for current players only. Mandate a shift of all current players with UD exclusive contracts to Panini with a production schedule mirroring Topps for baseball
  8. Allow for a NBA retired player license with 4 products split evenly with 2 for UD and 2 for Topps
  9. Provide Press pass an exclusive Collegiate Athletic license for basketball and football limited to 2 per sport
  10. Provide Tri-Star and Razor an exclusive MiLB and college baseball license limited to 3 products each, 1 at each price point
  11. Football- eliminate the Panini license, provide dual licensing to UD and Topps limited to 6 products per year each broken up into price points of 2 low-end, 4 mid-range and 2 high-end.
  12. No air-brush, non-logo, end around products. Period!
  13. Define price range as follows: Low-end, less than $50 per box, Mid-range, no more than $120, High-end no more than $300
What these changes would do:
  1. Limit the number of products on the market.
  2. Create clearly defined price points
  3. Play to the strengths of the manufacturers I.E.
Topps- tradition, brand loyalty, history
Upper Deck- high end, particularly suited well with retired only baseball
Panini- global reach mirrors that of the game of basketball, strong international opportunities
Press Pass- has delivered consistent quality collegiate products with no sticker autographs
Tri-star/Razor- strong and respected pulse of the prospecting market
ITG- Brand loyalty, high-end quality with sophisticated memorabilia

The product break down totals would then be as follows:

Baseball Current- 8 products
Baseball Retired- 6 products
Football Current and Retired- 12 products
Hockey Current- 8 products
Hockey Retired- 6 products
Basketball Current- 8 products
Basketball Retired- 6 products
Collegiate (Football/Basketball)- 4 products
Baseball Prospects- 6 products total

The way I see it, everyone is happy. Reduced number of products while maintaining variety, collectors provided a clearly defined choice in manufacturer, collectible interests and price point, provides every manufacturer ample revenue opportunity, plays to their individual strengths, and eliminates exclusivity in every way.

So will you make me the Czar?


Mark Aubrey said...

I'd vote for you, but you'd have to ask the card companies do a few more things...

* Report print runs (within 10% accuracy).
* No redemption cards. If it isn't ready at ship time, don't include it. Cards must be ready at press release time. Don't tell us Player X will be available, then send out redemption cards, then fail to follow up.
* More Curling sets. Okay, any Curling sets.
* Keep the ratio of non-key-sports inserts to 1 in 50. I don't want to find any more politicians in packs unless they actually played the game.

Do those and you're in.

Rob- AKA "VOTC" said...

LOL. I wanted to focus this post more on the licensing issues of late.

Believe me, there is a whole other post for issues of product design, configuration etc.

thanks for your vote :)

GCA said...

You've got my vote too. I'm sick of every single product being required to have rookies make up half the checklist, especially retro sets. And I agree that spreading the products a few to each company is a much better solution than exclusives.

Twitch said...

You have my vote.

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Anonymous said...

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Pablo said...

I ruled the hobby, Upper Deck, not Topps, would be allowed to make Baseball and Football cards. Since 1989, Upper Deck has made better looking cards with better photography than Topps. Topps has too many weird non-sport inserts that have little or nothing to do with sports. Topps also needs to stop making mini versions of their regular cards. I hate these mini cards! Leave the mini cards for the Cracker Jack boxes! I would have baseball cards in Cracker Jack boxes again. Gotta give the kids something with their Cracker Jacks at the ballpark! So, MLB, take Topps' license away! Or better yet, allow for some competition again!

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