Monday, January 19, 2009

Blog Bat Around - It's 2009, so Topps...Please Listen!!! Some Unsolicited Advice From This Humble Little Blog

The third installment of the gaining-in-popularity Blog Bat Around is being hosted by the Dave over at Fielder's Choice. If you missed the first two rounds of this incredible opportunity to unite with fellow Hobby bloggers, please take a look here and here to see what the mission is and read what others had to say about a particular topic. I'll wait until you come back...(just don't be gone too long!!!)

Anyway, the topic of the blog around this time is more of a plea to the card companies if you will. It's 2009 and the economy is in the tank. Money that most of us would love to spend on cards are now being diverted to other, more important things (like food, mortgage/rent, utilities). Which means that we're all going to have to cut back on our purchases, or find other ways to add to our collections, whether it be by trading, or Heaven forbid selling, some of our cards. But what could we do? We're not on the boards at either Topps or Upper Deck (or Donruss, or whatever other company). There are no bloggers sitting in on production meetings, helping decide what products to make or what should not. Heck, until this guy came along, we had no idea what goes on inside those staff meetings.

But again, it's 2009, and the voices of the Hobby blogosphere need to be heard. Here is the topic for the third Blog Bat Around:

2008 is over and 2009 has just begun. We’ve seen the previews for the first card releases of the new year. We also know that Upper Deck is planning to eliminate a few brands in 2009, and with the economy in a recession, Topps and other card companies may follow suit. As collectors, we want to see the card companies make cards that we want to collect, but how do they know what we want? This is your chance to tell them…

What type of sets would you like to see produced in 2009 and beyond? What sets from 2008 and past years do you want to see return, and which brands would you like to see killed off? How could existing brands be improved and what new types of card sets would you like to see created? Should new sets be geared more toward set collectors, or should the number of hits (autographs and game-used relics) be increased? What about short prints? Parallels? Inserts? Gimmicks? What do you love about current cards, what do you hate, and where should the card companies go from here?

This is the last year of the four-year agreement that saw Donruss lose their license, leaving Topps and Upper Deck as the companies who can create Major League Baseball Cards. The contract agreed upon by both companies and MLB Properties is that for the first two years, each company produces 20 products a piece, and after that (2008-2009) only 17 products each.

Now twenty products in a good economy doesn't seem so bad right? Well in a bad economy, 17 products seems to be a bit too much. While there may still be a market for those extremely high priced products (those that sell for $50.00 or more for a pack...ahem...Sterling...Exquisite...), it's shrinking as people are figuring out their money needs to go elsewhere. You have to ask yourself, "Are these really necessary? Can we really justify putting a $250.00 SRP on a three to five pack of cards?" Of course not!!! The cards may look great, and what "relics" you put in them might be historic, but many people can't afford them. They'll admire them, but then move on. My point? We have to go back to the basics.

Before 1989, all the companies (Topps, Donruss, Fleer, and Score) made one set, and then an update set at the end of the year. And collectors were satisfied. But then, something happened. Upper Deck came out with these $1.00 packs of premium trading cards. Thus the competition to create a better card became more intense. From 1990-91, each company created their own "premium card" brand (Stadium Club, Leaf, Ultra), to match UD. Topps brought back the Bowman name as a basic product, then overhauled the brand to focus on rookies and prospects. Then, the bar was raised a couple of years later with the introduction of Finest, Flair, and SP. As technology increased, we saw more products, Bowman's Best, Topps Chrome, Bowman Chrome, SPX, Studio, on and on and on. By 2001, there were more than 80 sets produced by the companies, it became impossible to keep up. Maybe it's time to stop trying to fill the 17 product quota and try to focus your energies on the products that we all KNOW will sell.

Maybe both Topps and UD should bring the product total down to 10 products each. That way we won't have to be exposed to the X's, or the Documentary, or the Timelines of the world. I mean UD started scrapping products last year like their Update set and this year with Masterpieces and Sweet Spot. They can surely get rid of a few more. If not (because they have to put out 17 based on the contract), they better find ways to improve the products that they are going to hurl upon the masses. While it may look like I'm being harsh on UD (heck, I don't buy the stuff, it's easy for me to say what should stay or go), Topps is not exempt from hearing my plea.

The seventeen baseball card products Topps brought us in 2008 (to fill the contracted quota agreed upon with MLB Properties) were:

  • Topps (Series I and II)
  • Topps Chrome
  • Topps Heritage
  • Topps Opening Day
  • Topps Moments and Milestones
  • Topps Finest
  • Topps Sterling
  • Topps Allen & Ginter
  • Topps Co-Signers
  • Topps Triple Threads
  • Topps Updates and Highlights
  • Topps Heritage High Numbers
  • Stadium Club
  • Bowman
  • Bowman Chrome
  • Bowman Draft Picks and Prospects
  • Bowman Sterling
Topps has already announced that Moments and Milestones will not be coming back. Personally, I could see the Sterling brands (those $250.00 pack behemoths) go away too. I mean the concept for the product is incredible, and the cards look great too...don't get me wrong. But collectors have found ways to go around having to spend their hard earned money by going online and shopping for singles. That way, the box they open won't be of a player they may not like (can you imagine a die hard Yankee fan opening up a box of Sterling, expecting Mantle, Ruth, or Munson, and getting a Ted Williams box instead???)

The idea of having two update sets in 2008 (one for the base brand and one for Heritage) was not necessarily a bad idea. The delivery of the Heritage update product, however, was. Why??? Because there was no need to combine both products into the Heritage High Numbers by adding two cards of Topps U & H in every pack!!! Put it this way, it was great during the early part of the decade when Topps included two packs of Topps Chrome Traded into every pack of Topps Traded, because the sets were of a similar vein and looked exactly the same (save for the stock the cards were printed). And personally, I traded a number of the chrome cards for the regular ones because I didn't collect Chrome. I just treated the chrome cards as parallels and moved on. But to have those who don't collect the base brand and focus on the Heritage brand, buy packs of this HHN product deal with the Topps U & H cards? It makes completing the set more challenging (and more expensive...maybe that was the idea huh?). If you're going to continue the trend of adding an Update set to Heritage, don't add the eponymous brand's traded cards into their packages.

When Stale Gum put on his annual Gummie Awards, for the category of Most Disappointing Product, guess which product won? Stadium Club. Why? Certainly not because of the photography. But because of how Topps turned the brand into an extremely higher end product!!! Before it was unceremoniously killed off, Topps Stadium Club was a brand just one step above Topps. After all, it was Topps first "premium" brand. And they made enough product to go around. The photography was the key to the set and Topps delivered some of the best pictures to ever go on cards. That's probably why there have never been borders surrounding the cards. It's supposed to look like you're flipping through pictures. There was a strong campaign to bring the product back into circulation, and it looks like Topps finally listened. While the product looks fantastic, the pictures are sharp, and doesn't look like it missed a beat upon it's return, the fact that Topps turned it into a much higher tiered brand and made the SRP's more expensive than they really should have been is what made it disappointing for me personally. It wound up becoming an "ultra premium" brand instead of a "premium" brand, and was priced much higher than many people expected. Of course people still bought it, and the product looks great, but if it is to come back in 2009, please make the product a little more affordable.

So what DO I want to see in 2009??? A return to the basics. Please make it simple. If it costs $200.00 per signature of Albert Pujols, or other players for that matter, then keep autographed cards out of the basic sets. If this is what jacks up the price of packs of the flagship brand, Heritage, Opening Day (which by the way really has run it's course), and maybe even Chrome, then don't put include them. In fact, why can't we have a set that just has your regular base cards and insert cards without autos and relics. You have a brand named for autographed cards (C0-Signers), and one for relic cards (Triple Threads), keep them there and away from the brands that set collectors buy in bulk. I certainly don't buy Series I, II, or U & H for the autos and relics, and I'm sure that many don't either. I'm not saying keep it out of every brand (prospectors would revolt if you took autographs away from Bowman and Bowman Chrome), but right now, the sooner a set collector can finish the sets he or she want to complete, the better it will be for that person in the pocketbook.

Short prints have become a challenge for many collectors. And in many cases, it can be a good thing. It brings out that "hunter's mentality" where set collectors like me would continue searching until finding that elusive card to complete a set. In Heritage and Allen & Ginter, this works. It really doesn't work for the flagship brand. Remember 2002 Topps Traded and Rookies? Now I know there will be variations in this year's set. And I know that Topps has done this in the last two years for their football and basketball brands with relative success. I just hope that this is only a one-year run with the baseball brand. Don't stray from the formula of a good base set, keep the variations to a bare minimum (you're not doing this again in series II are you??!), and I'll be happy.

Please stop making the multiple factory sets. Do you really need to produce 10 or more different factory sets (Hobby, Retail, Holiday, All-Star Fanfest, and up to 6 team exclusives sets)? And for what...those five-card bonus inserts or the one card relic that is displayed on the outside of the box??? Set collectors who want those five card inserts can't continue to buy that many factory sets...not right now anyway. You know that a majority of these cards will "never see the light of day...EVER!!!" Why torture us? At least bring the number of factory sets down to four, get rid of the team exclusives even.

The whole point of my diatribe??? Just make it simple for the loyal set collectors who have continued to buy your products through good economic times and bad. I'm not saying make it totally simple, but don't make it too challenging for us either. If you plan on cancelling more of the sets we saw last year, make the products you replace them with set collector friendly. Make each base set worth looking at, and not an afterthought. If you do plan on cutting down on products, make sure the ones you will be putting out to market look good and worth buying.

That's all I ask. I know my thoughts and my writing looks more like a disorganized mess, but the intent should be clear. It's the KISS method...Keep It Simple...Seriously!!!


JayBee Anama


night owl said...

I've seen the K.I.S.S. theme a couple of times on these bat-around posts, and I have to agree completely.

I'm a big proponent of simplifying in everything in life. The card companies would benefit greatly by making things much less complex. Those factory sets: I don't think a lot of collectors even think about them. I know I don't.

The Drizz said...

i'm 5 days away from buying a factory team set for the 5 bonus cards. what i'll do in 2009 is wait to see what teams topps decides (if they have them) to do sets for, and if there's a tigers set (fat chance for the last place bengals), then i'll buy that instead a box.

as far as the various other factory sets, i found the bonus cards readily available on ebay (only had to snag the clete thomas from the holiday, though). i like the fact that topps at least used different pics for these bonus cards, giving me variations of a particular players card.

i'd like to see the 15 card team factory sets use a few diff pics (there's usually one per team)and i loved my 55 card premium team set of the detroit tigers.

Jeremy said...

At the time MLB decided to limit its licenses to Topps and Upper Deck, I thought it would reduce the clutter that developed in the mid-1990s. While there are now less basic sets in competition, there are still way too many premium sets and inserts for my taste.

My hope for 2009 and beyond is that the basic products are not neglected at the expense of inserts and memorabilia cards.

Also, who can possibly collect ten versions of a Topps factory set? Although I've been collecting the Cubs specific set the past few years, I'd be fine with just one version of that set.

Dave - Fielder's Choice said...

Great points, JayBee! I didn't even realize that Topps produced that many different types of factory sets...