Rich Klein’s Ramblings: Once Popular Sport Not Made for Card Collecting

by Rich Klein

Last week I spent a fun filled “day off” having several doctor’s appointments, with the final one being a trip to the dentist. Now, to me the best part of this dentist’s office is that each room has a cable TV for the patients’ convenience. Usually, whatever network talk show is the preferred option, but for me, there is always usually something sports wise I can watch. This latest visit was no exception as I watched Novak Djovokic destroy a pretty good player in the Australian Open semi-final. Normally that would be the end of any thoughts about tennis but then I remembered a couple of days later that Brian Gray and Leaf Trading Cards had purchased the Ace Authentic name which had been the biggest tennis card manufacturer in recent years. The first set is due out late this winter.

Now understand, I am a huge tennis fan. I grew up in the late 60’s and early 70’s watching the best of that generation and then did statistics at the U.S. Tennis Open and even once at Wimbledon (as well as some other tournaments) in the 1984-1990 time frame. In fact, while searching online for information, I saw and then remembered I was actually an associate member of the United States Tennis Writers Association and a few names above me was noted hobby PR maven Doug Drotman. So. not only did I love tennis but I was actually a tennis “media” person in the 1980’s. And that was a golden age as well for the sport with such names like Connors. Evert and McEnroe soon to be followed by the next generation of greats that included Agassi, Chang, Sampras and Courier.

It got be wondering why tennis and trading cards have never mixed well. There are several reasons among which are:

  • Tennis is covered less and less by the networks. ESPN is a great place to watch tennis and as a network they do a terrific job but the audience is still nowhere near the size of NBC or CBS.  Much of the action is on cable.
  • Unlike the major sports, tennis (and golf) are the two biggest examples of sports in which no real stakes are ever laid down.  The grand slams, which are the biggest tournaments, stay in one area for 2-3 weeks but then everyone moves on the next stop on the tour.
  • The players today do not have the same recognition of those from the previous 30 years. Quick now, who is the leading American on the ATP (Association of Tennis Professionals), the answer is John Isner (#16). And what do we know Isner for? Well he played in that never-ending Wimbledon match that ended with a basketball-like 70-68 score in the final set.  American fans need American players to really get excited about the sport.
  • Most tennis fans are more interested in playing the game than in collecting cards and memorabilia.

And I would have thought Mardy Fish was the current #1 American male tennis player.

All of these factors have generated yawns among most of the public when it comes to card collecting. So, we have in tennis (and golf) several of the same issues.  Golf has been, at times, been a moderate success thanks largely to Tiger Woods autographs but there has never really been a tennis trading card set which has truly worked on the secondary market.

So, while Brian Gray has no doubt done very well for himself with all the different sets he has produced at Leaf, including a poker set, I just have doubts that he will make any money with tennis.

Oh yes, there is one more issue with tennis, which is, until everyone gets smart and puts all the players active and retired into one “union”, you have to negotiate with each player separately, That is a lot of effort and with a few exceptions of the very best players, the rest of the honest professionals move up and down without any rhyme and reason. John Isner could very well not even be a top 50 player within a year.

Brian, for your sake and for my tennis-loving self, I hope you prove me wrong, but I suspect a tennis set is not going to be the best future for you or for Leaf Trading Cards.

Rich Klein can be reached at [email protected]