When I came back to collecting in late 2015, I had a lot to catch up on. League exclusivity, pack issued autograph and relic cards, retail vs hobby packaging, “rainbows”, and the whole concept of online breakers was all new since I last collected in the mid 90s. Gone were the days of cards being found in the candy aisle of every gas station, grocery store, and discount retailer. Trying to find a pack of cards for under a buck? Good luck unless you’re buying a pack from the “junk wax” era.
Over time I was able to find some online forums like BlowoutCards which gave me a chance to read up on the modern card ecosystem. My local shop owner took time to educate me on what I’d missed over the last two decades, and I was even able to find a couple coworkers who still collected.
In these last two years, I’ve come to love some of these changes, I can tolerate others, but some of them flat out concern me.
In this post I plan to share five ideas which in my opinion would improve the industry and benefit both collectors and the business side of the hobby. Maybe you agree, maybe you don’t, either way let’s start a conversation!
5) Get Rid of Exclusive Licenses
I hate the era of exclusive licenses that we find ourselves in today. While it generates significant revenue for the sports leagues, it adds a huge expense load onto to manufactures that ultimately gets passed onto the consumer. Exclusive licenses are great for the leagues but are terrible for the consumer.
When looking at the “big four” sports, Panini holds the license for NBA and NFL trading cards. Topps maintains the MLB license, and Upper Deck is the only licensed producer of NHL products.
With the lack of competition, collectors have the perception that the manufacturer can do whatever they want with no accountability. And for the most part they are right. If a company puts out a questionable product we can either say oh well and continue to spend our hard earned dollars on it, or we don’t buy any that sport’s cards anymore.
In addition to pricing and accountability , the lack of competition impacts the creative process of card design and the type of products being produced. It becomes easy for marketing and customer service to take a backseat when their customers have no other options.
In many industries the old adage would be that if you don’t like something a company does you can “vote with your dollars” and buy a competitor’s product. We don’t have that option in the card world. The only way we can vote with our dollars is to not buy any product at all from that company which ultimately contributes to the macro decline in the number of collectors.
I guess at the end of the day if collectors get fed up enough with a manufacturer, they could stop buying and eventually drive them out of business. It would then enable a competitor to enter that sport, but the monopoly would still exist.
In my mind, the better answer still goes back to granting licenses to multiple companies who have to pass a “vetting” process by the league. That process should include minimum standards in quality, authenticity of autographs and memorabilia, and customer service.
4) Create more Entry Level products
Sticker Shock is real, but it’s not glorious.
Several of my friends who used to buy cards but are no longer actively collecting are just blown away at the cost of a pack and/or box of modern cards. Only a handful of products each year have a $1ish SRP, and those become difficult to find shortly after release. These casual collectors are not informed about release schedules, preorders, or other things that can help them buy cards at affordable prices. They walk in and see $150-200 boxes on the shelf and walk back out.
A few more products at a lower price point would also facilitate more kids collecting. I think this will ultimately be a critical factor in the longevity of this hobby. While the mega hits drive a lot of the conversation amongst avid collectors, there is a thriving community of collectors who don’t want chrome, don’t care about rainbows, and who would prefer to build a personal collection of 100 base cards of their favorite player rather than chase a “sick patch”.
There is still a lot of money spent on the base cards of current and past releases. Even though the value of individual base cards is nowhere near the value of the big hits, I think the market for these cards in total would surprise a lot of people.
This is not a knock on auto seekers and patch hunters(more on that to come in #1). Nor am I saying every product should be on the low end. I’m suggesting there is a demand for both, and the lower end, entry level market is being underserved.
3) Manufacturers Work Together to Help Build the Hobby
Competition amongst companies is a good thing. It leads to better products, at better prices, with better customer service. Beating your competitors is what a company should strive for, but there is also a time for working together. Finding ways to help grow the industry is one of those times.
We have this interesting ecosystem of manufactures, distributors, online retailers, hobby shops, and collectors. There are things that can be done at each of those levels which could help. As I understand it, Upper Deck recently held a conference for a segment of their hobby shop customers. Some of the conference sessions focused on helping the shops grow by educating them on general business trends. That is awesome!
We need more of that.
Manufacturers need to listen to the concerns of their retailers and their customers. Shops need coaching on how to develop a robust business plan that incorporates online and brick and mortar strategies. They need to learn how to build their social engagement, etc, and the manufacturers can play a role in helping that happen. Manufacturers can also lead when it comes to implementing a plan to get more people interested in collecting. I saw a few Topps ads during the last baseball season, but I can’t remember one ad for football, basketball, or hockey cards on tv, sports radio, or podcasts.
Unfortunately, the example Upper Deck showed a few weeks ago seems to be more of the exception than the rule. There used to be an Industry Summit with all manufacturers represented. Now each manufacturer does their own thing. That makes it difficult to build excitement and create a healthy culture in the industry.
A rising tide lifts all boats. There is room for competition while at the same time growing the hobby together. There is room for multiple manufacturers to succeed as long as they are putting out good products at competitive prices, with a focus on their customers.
2) Quit Complaining and Adapt
Another thing I’ve learned over the last couple years is that sports card collectors like to complain almost as much as they like to collect cards. I read lots of complaints about card design, sticker autos, release schedules, too many hits, not enough hits, too many cards of a hot player, not enough cards of a hot player. Some of those complaints are spot on, but at times it feels like nothing will make us happy. However, that’s not what I want to talk about here. I want to talk about complaints on the “business” side of things.
Alright, now for some “real talk”.
There are a lot of stories shared which highlight hobby shops closing. Online sellers claim to call it quits after each and every postage increase. Show vendors complain about people only wanting to pay Ebay prices. Story after story of how doing things how you’ve always done it isn’t working anymore paired with statements like “look what the manufacturer, distributer, breaker, post office, ebay, COMC, is doing to me.”
Quit complaining and adapt.
- If you have a shop but do not have an online presence, you are doing it wrong.
- If you sell online and the money you have in a card won’t let you absorb a nickel increase in the cost to ship a bubble mailer you are doing it wrong.
- If paying a nickel more to submit a card on COMC to avoid scanning, listing, packing and shipping makes your sale unprofitable you are doing it wrong.
- If selling on one online channel alone isn’t cutting it for you and you haven’t explored Facebook, Twitter, COMC, Sportlots, etc you are doing it wrong.
- If customers aren’t coming in on their own, you have experiment with new ways to go get them.
Adapting to a changing market is the name of the sports card game, and if you aren’t willing to learn new skills or try a new strategy, you are destined to stay on the same path you’ve been on. From what I can see, the people who are succeeding in this business are constantly reinventing how they build a customer base and market their cards.
If you are comfortable with where you are, by all means do it they way you like. Just don’t complain if you aren’t seeing the success you want.
The more shops, businesses, and even the “side hustle” guys like me can adapt, the more successful we’ll become.
1. Collect What You Like
We need to quit putting each other down for what we like to collect and the way we like to collect it.
Just because you may not like a product, doesn’t mean other people can’t love it.
Some people love chasing hits, and there are a ton of products out there for that guy. I love building sets, and there are plenty set builders products out there for me. Great! You can bust new wax if you want, or you can wait and pick up singles. Both are necessary for the industry to run. One is not better than the other.
I see a lot of people spending their time putting others down for their collecting preferences. Vintage guys belittle the modern wax guys. Modern guys belittle the junk wax guys. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen comments about how base cards are “worthless”, however Sportlots proves everyday there is a market for them.
Just check out Facebook and you will see collecting groups for any and all segments of the collecting world. Those collectors are loving every minute of it. And thank goodness! We should be celebrating the fact that we can easily find someone who wants the cards we’re not into, and can provide us what we’re looking for on the flip side.
This hobby is meant to be fun. If you are no longer enjoying it, that’s fine. By all means move on to something else that you are passionate about. All I ask is that you don’t try and suck the fun out of it for everyone else.
I’m just one guy.
These ideas are just one guy’s opinion.
In my mind, collecting cards provides the average individual a way to both connect with their favorite sports, teams, and heroes, and reflect on some favorite memories of family, youth, and history.
It should first and foremost be fun!
If done right, the hobby can also provide an opportunity to be profitable, and I think these are five ideas(amongst many) which can both help the hobby grow and make it more enjoyable for the average collector.
Things continue to change in world of sports cards, but I’m excited about the future. I know I’m having a blast getting back into it and getting this blog off the ground! I hope you are enjoying it as well.
What do you think? Leave a comment below and tell me what you agree with and also where you think I’m way off!
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