Forum fodder discussing a flawed hobby system

(Editor’s Note: As many in the hobby are already well aware, www.sportscardforum.com is one of the most popular collecting websites the Internet has to offer. Whether it’s collector-to-collector interaction, providing a safe trading outlet or simply updating collectors on what’s hot and what’s not in the hobby, the site offers something for everybody and the visitor traffic numbers support that notion. Each month, Tuff Stuff’s Sports Collectors Monthly will share one of the best message board posts with our readers.)

A funny thing happened on the way to the card shop: I woke up. I remembered that this wasn’t supposed to be about the big hit. This is a hobby I enjoyed because I respected, and in some cases adored, my childhood heroes from their various sports. I used to collect with the goal in mind to get the complete set and maybe even the inserts (which, during this time period, were few and far between). It’s no longer like that. The kids today need to understand that it shouldn’t be about the amount of autographs or jerseys you get that betters your experience. Yes, I would be lying to you if I said I didn’t enjoy pulling a Matt Ryan rookie autograph, but what did it teach my son? The rest of the box was pretty much just split up and sold/traded off.

I am realizing as a father, and a collector who very much wants to share this wonderful hobby with his son, that the problem for him is he expects the autograph, jersey, or rare silk card (Harrison pulled the 2007 Mantle Turkey Red Silk out of his first pack of cards). How can we as collectors remind the younger generation that it’s not always about the big hit? And how can we, as the older generation, teach the younger generation the value of set collecting?

Sure, there have been the mainstays – the Topps and Upper Deck basic sets – but even those are now too much, with all of the short prints and inserts. I bought a case of 2007 Topps attempting to get a master set of the inserts, not including autographs and jerseys, and I wasn’t even close. If I can’t do it because of costs, how is a 9-year-old going pull it off?

Now, to their credit, two of the big three have embraced the younger generation’s Internet savvy (and the third has recently rolled out a program of their own), creating programs combining cards with virtual cards (basically a virtual set within a set). While I think this might be a step in the right direction, they are set up as gimmicks and are very hard to navigate, with no true way to “collect” them. That is really not me. I’m more of the “have to hold” collector. I do understand the appeal of these ideas, but kids still have to buy packs of cards, and be lucky enough to get a code card.

After a few days of contemplating this, I noticed there was a recent development: Panini has rolled out its plans for this year’s Score set, and it’s a $1-a-pack product. Granted, there aren’t many autographs, and I don’t believe any jersey cards, but it’s a very affordable product I can collect with my son: straight-forward with no real short-printed inserts (or at least nothing that will cost an arm and a leg to complete the set). I personally haven’t embraced the Panini exclusive(s), and I’m not sure I will, but this has definitely put a spin on things for me – at least for now.

I find Panini’s approach much better than the ongoing Topps promotion of the Million Card Giveaway. Who was the target of this promotion? Our kids, or the seasoned collectors who wanted a shot at a Mantle? I ask this because Topps decided to put this in one of their lower-end sets: 2010 Topps (which naturally inflated the cost of this normally basic and inexpensive set – it’s currently $19 per jumbo pack at my local card shop, up from $10). I see commercials on MLB targeting kids, yet the promotion isn’t really designed for them, is it?

With the exclusives in place, I am now starting to see what each company’s niche is going to be – and to me, it looks grim. It’s no secret that Upper Deck is holding on by a thread. They have hockey (with Panini), the NCAA, and a few entertainment products – but unfortunately, until there is a change at the of the company, they are going to be doing the same thing as before: no change, business as usual, with “a lot of moving parts” (a quote from Facebook when asked about the delayed sets) leading to nothing but more delays.

Topps is not pleasing its customers, either. I think they plan on doing their normal stable of marquee sets (the Chromes, etc.), but no real change will come. They are too entrenched in their way and don’t cater to collectors as much.

Panini, well, that’s where things should be get interesting. They have just about everything now, and recently committed to bringing the set collectors and kids back. But they also decided to limit their distribution methods, which could make it much more difficult and more costly for collectors to get their products. So I just don’t know how they are going to do with the new method. A lot of people will have to go through many different distributors to receive a box, and each one of those distributors will want their profits. Who is that going to trickle down to to make up the difference? Us, the fogotten collectors.

In the last 20 years, we have gone through many changes and innovations in the sports card/memorabilia world, but this could be the beginning of the end. The high-dollar products are not practical for the average collector, and whether or not the big 3 want to admit it, their money really is coming from the everyday person who goes to a show or shop.
I find it very sad that Topps, Panini, and Upper Deck tend to forget that. SCM

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