Wednesday, January 28, 2009

A Look At High End: Where Does It Fall?

Now that Topps and UD are out of the Basketball market, I am also assuming that high end basketball is leaving with them. That leaves football's 3-4 products and hockey's 2-3 products as the only high end products left. I assume that UD will focus a lot more energy on making their products better in those sports, but I doubt the difference will be noticible for a few more years.

I have noticed a few people over the internet hailing the switch to Panini in Basketball as a good thing as it will bring the hobby back to producing "cheap fun sets." Guess what? Basketball collectors could give a shit about cheap sets. If you look at the Basketball market, its all about high end, especially internationally. In fact, I would expect Exquisite basketball outsells Football 2 or 3 to 1 - mainly because basketball collecting isnt worth it if you collect cheaply. In my opinion, this will not only cripple basketball cards, but signal a bidding war over licenses in other sports so that only one company has the ability to produce. That fucking blows.

What is funny, is that even after all of these high end products, we still do not have (non rookie edition) Exquisite baseball in the form that Basketball and Football have it, and I don’t think we will get it. I believe that Prime Cuts and (gah!) Topps Sterling and Triple Threads will sadly continue to be Baseball's only "high end" products at 170-200 dollars a box.

As has been discussed before, right now, its pretty much impossible to produce a high end baseball product with an MLB liscense, mainly because of the over-ridiculous price it takes to obtain the autos, and the need for historical players to drive a product in contradiction to MLBPA rules. Does this mean Exquisite baseball will never happen? You bet your ass.

Even after all the price problems, the central issue is not the cost of making the product, but rather finding people to buy the product at normal Exquisite prices. I mean, look at the way Football and Basketball (RIP) drove the markets. Both had a crop of RC players that never had problems garnering huge values due to immediate playing status, and even the retired and current players still had a good handful of people who demanded a lot of money for their cards without contrived scarcity involved.

That just doesn’t happen in baseball. Even the most accomplished superstar players are hindered by their city's market, which means if you arent Derek Jeter, A-rod, or Albert Pujols, you probably wont get 100 dollars for an auto that cost the company 200 dollars to obtain. Hell, even David Ortiz, pride of Red Sox Nation, usually doesn’t get that much for one of his autos, and he is the most popular player in the biggest market outside of NY.

I discussed before that baseball collectors are not the same as the rest of the sports. Baseball collectors have been forced into a hobby life of set collecting, mainly because there just isnt anything else to collect. Before Prime Cuts, there hadnt been a box over 100 bucks worth buying since 2005. That is a fucking long ass time, if you ask me. In the mean time, thousands of new collectors have come to the sport and seen a world without worthwhile products to bust for needs other than set collecting, so naturally they went the other direction. People on the blogosphere will argue that a limited budget and lack of willing to spend on high end is the reason they went the way they did, but really, its not possible to adopt a different philosophy.

Ill give you an example.

I came back a few years ago into the hobby with VERY little cash and NO cards. I immediately started to look for the coolest cards I could find, but I quickly found out that the hobby had changed quite a bit since I left. Exquisite Football was the king of the mountain now, and I immediately swooned at the amazing cards it produced on a yearly basis. I could not believe my eyes. I rapidly jumped on board with mid-end products like Limited, Absolute and LCM so that I could build a collection worthy enough of selling in a high end market. After a few years, I had enough cards to accomplish that. Set collecting was the furthest from my top priority as it could get, because that is not how football functions.

Then, when I tried to take the same mentality to Baseball, I found that the other collectors were thinking about collecting in a completely different manner. Only recently have I come to the realization that there really isnt much else they can do. You could cite Sweet Spot and SPA as successful mid end products, but even the mid hits in those products cant break $50. SPA and Sweet Spot in Football has 3-4 rookies a year that break that barrier, plus a generous handful of retired players, current players, and others that break it. Its also a hell of a lot cheaper to produce, though the price for football autos has been on the rise as well (Matt Ryan was the most expensive rookie auto I had ever heard of).

Basically it comes down to this: If you want to make a successful Baseball product, you either fill it with rare jerseys of pre-war players and tons of cut autos for a reasonable price, or you make a product with a huge and cool base set for people to collect at a really cheap price. Other than that, you have no chance - there is NO in between.

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