Pitchers and catchers may not be reporting for another two weeks, but the baseball season officially began in hobby shops this week with the release of the first 2009 card products from Topps and Upper Deck.
• Topps – Clay Luraschi, director of product development for Topps, said the company has high hopes for this year’s product. “We haven’t been this excited about a Topps Baseball release for probably the last 10 years,” he said. “It’s a great mixture of today’s stars and yesterday’s legends, making it a true retrospective of what the game is all about.”
Topps is utilizing the legends it has through its exclusive licensing deal with CMG Worldwide, meaning collectors have the chance to find cards of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Ty Cobb and other immortals in this product. It also means they have the chance to find autographs and other Relics associated with those stars. As another salute to cards of the past, Topps will offer a 50-card Allen & Ginter insert and the 75-card Ring of Honor insert set that will be partially available via Series One packs, with the remaining cards distributed one per week at hobby shops that are part of the Topps HTA retailer network.
And there will be a political touch to this year’s product, with Barack Obama pictured throwing out a first pitch while wearing a White Sox uniform. That card will be a variation of card No. 44 in the set, symbolic of Obama being the 44th president.
But one of the company’s most aggressive pushes with this product is toward kids with two promotions that tie into the company’s Topps Town website. Each pack contains a card with a digital code that kids can use to access digital cards on the site and obtain points to spend on virtual items on the site. Later this month, the codes can be used on the site for a new 3-D Live program, which Luraschi described as the ultimate in high-tech trading cards.
Traditionally, the hobby has viewed the performance of Topps Series One as a gauge for baseball card sales during the first few months of the year. Despite today’s tough economy, Luraschi said he won’t read any more into this year’s numbers as compared to other years. “We’ll watch to see how it does and follow the rates of sales, and use it as we have in the past as somewhat of a barometer on what we expect the next few months to look like,” he said.
• Upper Deck – The 20-year anniversary of the company’s first baseball product plays a large role in all of the company’s baseball sets this season. By “large,” we’re referring to the 2,500-card insert set that commemorates the last 20 years in sports, pop culture, politics, world history and technology.
“We wanted to do something different that would really get collectors excited and I think we’ve succeeded,” said Jason Masherah, Upper Deck’s senior brand manager. “From Ronald Reagan leaving office and the fall of the Berlin Wall to Ken Griffey Jr. and Ken Griffey Sr. playing in the same game with the Mariners, we didn’t miss a moment.” In addition to Griffey Jr., Tiger Woods, Wayne Gretzky, Derek Jeter, Kobe Bryant, Jack Nicklaus and Peyton Manning are also featured in the set. The insert debuts in UD Series One, inserted 1:2 packs.
Autographed Griffey Jr. rookie buy-back cards are also part of this set, as is the return of the Predictor cards. This year’s Predictor cards focus on a variety of potentially historic achievements, ranging from the Cubs winning the World Series to gas falling below $1 per gallon. Ten historic firsts that took place in 2008, such as Obama becoming the country’s first African-American president, are commemorated in the Historic Firsts insert.
Terry Melia, public relations manager for Upper Deck, said he believes the buzz surrounding the 20th anniversary set will help spark sales in an otherwise tough market. “It will be a true test to see how our flagship brand performs, but we’ve packed it with so many cool inserts that we’re looking forward to the response,” Melia said.