Sunday, March 27, 2011

Innovation Fuels Controversy

For as long as I have been a member of the blogsphere, there have been several recurring cries for change from the trading card manufacturers, foremost of which has been the lack of innovation. Yet at every attempt at innovation, the companies are derided and ridiculed. When Topps experimented with augmented reality and 3D trading cards, everyone's reaction, mine included, was pretty much, "What's the point?". Fast forward a couple of years to this past week with both Upper Deck and Panini announcing that 2011 will see the industry's first ever, self-playing video trading card. Again, collector reaction was overwhelmingly negative. It seems as if the companies are damned if they do and damned if they don't and I just don't think that's fair.

Not only is it not fair it certainly can be stiffling to the entire creative and innovation process as a whole if these ideas are routinely criticized, this time, before the product is even in collector's hands. Those of you who read the blog regulalry know that I am certainly not an apologist or staunch defender of the manufacturers. I hold them accountable on several things including design and value. But when every innovation is called a gimmick, it's simply a no win situation.

In all honesty, I'm not sure about these video cards either but I'll reserve judgement until I actually have one in hand. I think the potential is there to be very cool. Jordan's dunk from the free throw line, Don Larsen's perfect game mauling, Ripken's lap around Camden Yards, buzzer beaters, hockey's greatest fights, The Immaculate Reception, etc. I think before casting judgement we just wait to have them in hand and even if they aren't your cup of team, at least the companies are willing to try something new.

Now,
the way this was handled by the two companies is an example of how to do something right and how to do something wrong.
Over the last several weeks, Upper Deck has been teasing the coming of their video card, called, Evolution, with a series of videos, blog posts etc. Very well executed PR and marketing to create hype and garner interest prior to the debut of the innovation in 2011 Upper Deck Football.

Unfortunatley for them, Panini stole their thunder at the Industry Summit with a presentation that included the announcement of their own video card called, Panini HD. A truly back door kind of way to make the announcement, especially considering that they do not even have a prototype yet. Contrast that with Upper Deck who is already at the pack out phase with their version. Panini's mock-up looked much like a normal trading card compared to Upper Deck's which looks like a video screen in a small box. I hope, if the concept sticks, that Panini is successful with their mock-up as it makes for a more streamlined look resembling a true collectible and less like a novelty.

The pissing match that ensued on Twitter between the two companies after the summit was awkward and uncomfortable and lacked any degree of professionalism. It was clear that Upper Deck officials were clearly upset at having been one-upped by Panini and forced them to change their PR approach to "First to Market" as compared to "Pleased to Announce the First . . ."

So, what do YOU think about The Hobby's first selp playing video trading card?

Thursday, March 24, 2011

My Mom Rescued a Hoarder- Need Late 90's - Early 00's Player Lots?

So my Mom has a friend who is a bit of a hoarder. Not quite as bad as those on the TV show but let's just say I'm glad that getting these boxes out of my Mom's trunk was the extent of my involvement.
There were several boxes of kindling as would be expected, but there were also (2) 3,000 count boxes with some great player lots with cards from the late 90's and early 2000's.

Most lots range from 35-50 different cards and include brands like, Metal Universe, Skybox, Gold Label, Showcase, EX, Finest, Laser, Tek, SPx Holo, Holographix, Ionix, Gallery, Bowman's Best, HD, Prism, Private Stock, Leaf Steel and more.

I know this isn't eBay but there is some good stuff in here and I want my readers to have first shot.

Players available:

Eric Chavez
Jose Canseco
JD Drew
Sean Casey
Jeromy Burnitz
Ken Caminiti
Darin Erstad
Jim Edmonds
Joe Carter
Jermain Dye
Johnny Damon
Vinny Castilla
Andre Dawson
David Cone
Cliff Floyd
Carlos Delgado
Andres Galarraga
Carl Everett
Will Clark
Roger Clemens ($20)
Tony Clark
Nomar Garciaparra

If you are interested let me know at thevotc@gmail.com and I'll get you specifics and pricing.

Lots are either $5, $7, or $10 unless noted above and pricing is based on the quantity and cards included.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Now Taking Nominations for the Worst LCS in the Country

The Industry Summit is less than 48 hours old and already a heated topic has been brought to the forefront with Panini's new slogan, "2011- The Year of the Hobby Shop". Minimum pricing, early release protectionism and more are part of what Panini has described as the winning formula and necessary moves for the long-term health of The Hobby.

While I am sure there are many well run Local Card Shops, I am all too intimately familiar with several that are run by people with no business acumen whatsoever, who believe they are still operating in the early '90's and that this whole Internet thing is just a fad or passing fancy. Disorganized stores, unhelpful customer service, over inflated prices, inventory so old it collects dust, no online presence, no in store customer interaction opportunities.

While I enjoy going to a good card shop like anyone, as a full time employee, father, and husband, I have little time, if any, to actually make my hobby purchases there. The Internet has revolutionized the way we live, interact with each other, and purchase goods and services. To employ a marketing strategy that protects a fragment of the market as a whole seems silly. But so does loading Target and Wal-Mart with Topps Heritage product over a week before your LCS but what do I know.

So enough of my still formulating rant and opinion and before you chastise me, I really do understand the importance of a well run LCS. Well run, obviously being the operative phrase here.

The real purpose of this post is to hear from the only people that really matter, YOU, the collector about the LCS's out there that make you shake your head and wonder how they are still in business. Also, to you pundits and naysayers, I'll follow this up with nominations for The Best LCS, but for now I am more focused on getting a better read on exactly what it is that Panini and Upper Deck think is so important to be supporting through price and distribution manipulation.

So please provide the name of the store, city, state, and reasons why you think they are one of the worst shops in the country.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Crown Royale Hockey Review

Crown Royale Hockey continues a tradition first made popular by the now defunct Pacific Trading Company, once a master in the hockey trading card genre. 2010-11 saw the revitalization of the heralded brand by Panini first in football and basketball and now, hockey. The ornately themed product exudes class and is distinguished by its die-cut base set and noble imagery and majestic designs. Coat of arms, lion heads, crowns, fleur-de-lis and intricate framing are all utilized to create a uniformed consensus throughout the product’s various insert and subsets.

Read the rest.



Video Highlights: Playoff Contenders Football

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Perceived Value and Feeling Fleeced

This morning saw one of the most dynamic debates I have ever witnessed with trading card manufacturer representatives, industry insiders, bloggers, and collectors. The forum was Twitter and the participants were Gregg Kohn of Upper Deck, Steven Judd, Doug from Card Corner Club, Gellman from Sports Cards Uncencored, Sports Card News and myself. Others joined the conversation later but by that point the fun was already over.

What jump started the whole conversation was a very public exchange between SCU and Panini on the lackluster, early returns and opinions regarding National Treasures Football. That in and of itself is a topic for another post but the subject quickly turned to value, perceived or otherwise.

While I understand how a P&L statement works, I admittedly am not privy to the nuances of how building a trading card product affect the numbers from a bottom line stand point. However, what I do know is that a product delivering $20 worth of cards with a SRP of $100 is doing nothing to grow The Hobby's collector base. Instead it is causing people to no longer purchase unopened product instead choosing to shop for singles on the secondary market. That is a trend that if allowed to occur unabated is bad for all parties involved; manufacturers, distributors, retailers and collectors.

Long gone are the days from the early 2000's that you could flip the contents of a single box at a profit. Unfortunately it seems many collectors feel that should still be the case. I am not one of them. That was a short lived anomaly, that created the "every collector is a dealer" mentality. While it is certainly understandable that many wish this was still the case, it just isn't realistic.

What should be realistic is to expect a certain level of tangible value in return for your purchase. That value should be commiserate and in proportionate scale to the SRP. In addition, x% of that value can be attributed to the entertainment value, so that any product, regardless of price point returns a % of value in entertainment and secondary market value.

As an example:


Now, how do you define entertainment value and tangible value? Entertainment value is the fun of opening the product. This can be accomplished in the "cool" factor of the cards, the degree of base set completeness, the hit quality etc. The Tangible value is easy enough to calculate. Regardless of the product, their is historical sales data to determine that, as an example- a multi-color swatch, x size, numbered to x of these certain players is worth in the range of x-z. You then repeat this for every type of card insert, hard signed auto, sticker auto, single color swatch, etc and then you pack-out the product accordingly.

As you can see, I don't expect even close to a 100% tangible value return. Is 50% though, really asking to much on a product that costs over $300? I don't think so. Is it to much to feel like I got my money's worth? If I go to a casino with $100 and play Black Jack at a $10 table for 3-4hrs and walk away with $0, did I win or lose. In my mind I won because I got 3-4 hours of quality entertainment ( and free drinks ;) ). So many times I open a pack, blaster or box of trading cards and feel "ripped-off". I know I am not alone in that regard. What that simply means is that there is a fundemental flaw in the current way trading cards sets are designed, produced, and brought to market.

I also understand that the licensing fees from the league are exorbitant and way out of line. Ultimately the manufacturers need to decide if they are producing collectibles or commodities. because as it stands right now, how much longer can you continue to deliver a product to market that in the end yields little, if at times any, secondary market value. If you are producing collectibles than secondary market value HAS to matter in your product development and yet no manufacturer seems to be concerned with that and yet are then the first to complain when sales quotas aren't being met.

I understand that a trading card manufacturers first and foremost responsibility is to turn a profit but if you market your product as a collectible but produce it as a commodity, guess what, ultimately the two are going to catch up to each other and you won't be turning a profit at all.

Simple rules to follow, particularly with high end product-

1) Never, ever, ever, ever, ever us single color swatches.
2) No sticker autographs
3) Lower the print run. Simple Econ 101 says the less supply the greater the demand.
4) Forget the fluff packaging. You can put lipstick on a pig but its still a pig. Eliminate the mfg cost of packaging and put it back into the product's content value. Packaging is meant to attract an on the fence purchaser to entice them. The people that buy $300 product are going to buy it if its in a laminated wood box made out of mahogany or if its in a paper bag.

I'm sure it's not as easy as I make it sound. Or is it? Is it just that the powers that be have been doing this for so long that they can't see the forest for the trees?