Thursday, April 15, 2010

SCU and the Topps Blog Round Table

As I have said yesterday, Topps is organizing the first blog round table discussion, and a lot of your favorite blogs are participating. Because space is limited, Topps is not going to publish each response to each answer. Therefore, I thought I would post my answers in full so everyone can see.

1. How long have you been collecting? What are your favorite players, teams, sets, etc. to collect? Which card in your collection means the most to you and why?

I have been collecting on and off for the last 15 years when it comes to cards, but I have been an autograph collector pretty much my whole life thanks to my dad. Being from Minnesota, I obviously love the Twins and Vikings over any other team out there. My main collecting targets are centered around those teams, with Adrian Peterson and Joe Mauer naturally at the top of those lists. As for the card that means the most to me, that’s like picking between my hundreds of cardboard children. The piece that means the most to me personally, though, is probably the autographed game model bat I got signed by Kirby Puckett when I was really young. He was a class act on the field, especially when I had the pleasure of meeting him. Its really too bad he was taken so early.

2. In the time that you have been collecting, what is your favorite story, memory, experience, etc?

I would say the best story I have is probably the story of when I got to meet Joe Mauer. I wrote about it for one of the first blog bat arounds on my site, and it still makes me laugh to this day. Basically, I waited six hours in line to be at the front for a signing he did, and when I got to the table, he signed my baseball in the wrong spot. Knowing that I wasn’t going to be selling the piece, I asked him if he could sign it again on the sweet spot, to which he laughed and happily obliged. When I met him a second time at Twins fest a few months later, he remembered the previous encounter and promised to sign it right for my now wife.

3. What are the effects on the hobby of major card companies moving toward exclusivity deals with sports leagues? Given that this could be the direction that the industry is headed, what should card companies do to continue to provide a quality product to collectors.

This is a very touchy question, and I am glad we get a chance to discuss it. Basically, I think exclusivity is a terrible thing for any collector, regardless of whether its player focused, or league focused. As collectors we develop a good idea of what we gravitate towards, and exclusivity does nothing but prevent collectors from having choices in what they could buy. People often cite the increase in product lines as the reason for the decline of the industry, but in my opinion, that could not be further from the truth. The reason there are so many products is because there are that many people who like to buy them, and variety always has been the spice of life in the arena of collecting. When part of that variety is taken away, it limits how deep someone can dive into a hobby that they love. On the other hand, I think it also limits advancement because there is no reason for companies to provide a better product when they have no one to measure up to. Since the beginning of the industry, this has been the spark for just about every innovation, going back as far as the battles between Topps and other companies over the right to produce cards with baseball players on them. Due to this fact, I think the companies involved need to continue to innovate and show creativity in order to prevent stagnation in the products that hit the shelves.

4. Pick a timeframe- 5, 10, or 20 years. In that timeframe, what has been the single best and worst development in the hobby?

Over the last 20 years, I definitely believe that autographs have been the best innovation, but also birthed one of the worst innovations. Autographs have given this hobby a longevity that it wouldn’t normally have had, and brought it to an audience that was never thought possible. The reason I am referring to autographs is because it is what brings people like me to the hobby, and its also what keeps me around. Talk to any fan of any team and ask them if they would like to have a signature of their favorite player. I guarantee you it would be tough to find a person to turn you down. Because of the inclusion of signed cards in packs, those people have started to dominate the collecting populace more than any other type of collectors. Then, when you factor in the rampant faking generally associated with autographs, and the fact that the industry has become a foolproof alternative to buying signed memorabilia, it all starts to make sense. On the other hand, the inability to secure these autographs in a timely and cost effective way has led to the innovation of using stickers instead of hard signed sigs. That invention alone has caused more problems than it has solved.

5. What are your thoughts on prospecting? Do you do it personally? Why? Has the clamoring to find the next big rookie affected the quality of products, either positively or negatively?

Prospecting is an inevitability among collectors because of how money focused card collecting is. Although I do not do it personally, I see the allure for someone that has the time to do it. The funny thing is how different prospecting is among the major sports. In baseball, investing in a draft pick or rookie may afford you months or years before you can get a good ROI on your purchases. In Basketball and Football, the players have impact so early that its almost impossible to prospect some rookies. However, that has never stopped anyone from trying to prospect in those sports, especially when you look at the success of late round picks like Tony Romo and Tom Brady. However, that has also brought a downside, as now everyone needs to have access to every player’s signature and memorabilia, and it has led to a watering down of many checklists as a result. It’s a double edged sword.

6. We are collecting tangible products in an increasingly intangible world. As our lives move more and more online, what will the effects on the industry be? Will the next generation of kids be as excited about collecting cards as we are? How should the major card companies respond?

I want to only respond to the kids aspect of this question because I think it’s a topic that is blown so far out of proportion that I can barely function when it is brought up. Kids are gone. Period. They aren’t coming back, and we need to come to terms with that. Because such a huge super-majority of the people in the hobby are adults, its time to stop trying to bring them back, and instead focusing on making the products more friendly to the adults. People will often say that kids are the future of the hobby, and that resource needs to be renewed, but that isn’t correct. Refueling the adults and casual sports fans will grow the hobby more, because 18-45 year old people have that much more money to spend. If the companies focus on bringing in the casual sports fans and adults, the hobby will continue to expand. Thanks to the advent and extreme popularity of video games the cards will never be able to compete. Therefore its not worth sacrificing the existing base for a demographic that is never going to be won over.

7. How has new media changed the way you collect? How should the major card companies utilize new media to connect with their consumer base? How can new media change and/or revitalize the hobby?

New media has become the number one source of hobby information, and any attempts to ignore or discredit it will have very dire consequences. Bloggers, tweeters, message boarders, and facebookers have made and broken products and concepts, and its because communication is the new transparency. With manufacturers coming aboard, it gives people access that they never had before. This leads to more excitement, better sales, and of course happier collectors. When you look at blogs, especially, all of them are written by people for the fun and love of what they do. No advertisers to please, no editors to worry about, and much more pure commentary for the fans to read. They also have the ability to comment on things that many places wouldn’t touch, and that is a luxury that should not be taken lightly.

8. How has the recent rise in counterfeits and scams affected the way you collect? What advice would you give the major card companies to help combat this?

It has most definitely affected the way I collect, especially when buying online. My personal mantra has digressed into ‘guilty until proven innocent,’ something that I am not happy about. Whether its buying autographs, patch cards, high end lifetime pulls or even the base cards themselves, nothing is sacred anymore. Then, despite the horrible road we are traveling down, there is an unacceptable and inexcusable lack of coverage in the mainstream hobby media because of a fear of scaring people away. That’s where blogs, message boards and similar sites need to step up. So far they have, and I hope that continues, because Im questioning the direction of the companies when it comes to this topic. See, people will no doubtedly respond with the creation of a national photo database as the answer to many problems for the existing product lines, but that is small potatoes compared to what actually needs to be done. There needs to be task forces set up among the manufacturers, people that are responsible for seeking out and destroying fakes, as well as that database. Most importantly, eBay needs to be approached, because they are complacent in the progression of scams among us. If eBay actually acted against the people who take advantage of others, this hobby would be a much better place to exist in.

9. The poor economy has affected all of us in recent years. In what ways would you like to see card companies respond to provide interesting, affordable products for collectors?

I honestly think we are in a pretty good place in terms of where things are right now. Everyone has something as I have said before. Basically, the issue is not the cost of the sets themselves, but rather the content of the products. Instead of cheapening the costs of the boxes, its better to amp up what is offered inside them. Take the chrome products for example, as they are not only some of the most cost effective boxes on the market, but also some of the most fun ones to bust. Its because the cards look amazing, the content is great, even outside of the box hit, and the product holds true to its concept each year. Cost is a relative entity within each product, mainly in relation to what collectors perceive they can get out of each and every pack. When a product succeeds, almost all of the time it is because the collectors who buy it believe that they get their money’s worth out of the box. When there are problems with the checklist, the design, or the box content, they get frustrated and the product falters. Collectors know what to expect out of chrome, so they buy it each and every year. If manufacturers are looking for a way to provide great products in a failing economy, deliver on what is promised. In other words, concoct a way to replicate other success with more variables in the equation that can be changed year to year to keep it fresh.

10. We’ve done autographs. We’ve done just about every kind of relic/game used product you can think of. What’s next? Where do we go from here?

There are a few logical next steps, but cost is always the limitation. Can a company provide great innovation with out jacking prices so high that people wont buy. I think redemptions for full sized game used memorabilia or full sized autographed items would be a great chase for a high end product. Why cut up everything? There is just as much a demand for the full item as there is for the small scale one. In that same vein, if a company is going to cut up relics for use in cards, give some provenance to those cards. If possible, determine a game, season, or whatever to bring us closer to the card we have in our hand. If I knew that my two dollar jersey card was worn in a deciding game, or in a milestone game, it would add value where there wasn’t before. Who’s to say that companies couldn’t also tie a sound byte from the player talking about said game or season. That would be even cooler.

11. If you could say one thing-anything- to Topps and know that the CEO will read it, what would you say?

I think Topps has rested on their brand loyalty way too long. Basically, it seems to me that the product designers mail it in on products like Triple Threads and similar sets because they know there are people that would buy it just because it says Topps on the box. Inject freshness, inject innovation, and focus on better designs. Forget stuffing as many relics onto a card as possible, make those cards look awesome. When you look at a card like the Triple Threads XXIV cards, there is no focus on that design. Stop making cards like that, and start making cards that we all will chase because we love the way they look.


.....annnnd scene.

Check out the full discussion on monday when it is posted, it should be pretty interesting to read. Until then, im sure you will be able to see some previews from the few blogs that are participating.

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