Just a few odds and ends this week while waiting for March Madness to take full effect. By the way, it seems like college basketball has joined the trend of having participation trophies. Not only has the NCAA tournament expanded to 68 teams with the NIT taking those leftovers but now we have two other tournaments for the also also-rans. Good grief, that means over 100 teams are playing post-season basketball nowadays. I remember back in the 1970’s when the NCAA tournament was 26 teams and the NIT was still very important and a great team such as the 1974 Maryland squad which lost in the ACC finals to NC State in double overtime could not even be invited to March Madness. But as a Columbia University alum, seeing a post-season basketball tournament appearance, even if irrelevant for the first time in more than four decades, is very pleasing.
This is also the week of the Las Vegas Industry Summit where card companies always make some announcements. Last year, Major League Baseball gave Topps an exclusive through 2020 and the MLBPA gave both Panini and Upper Deck licenses to use their players. Panini has issued several sets since then but we are still waiting for an Upper Deck baseball set. We wrote at that time about the common sense all those announcements meant to the leagues and to collectors and nothing has changed since that point.
Monday, we learned that Topps is resurrecting two brands kid collectors of the 1990's might remember and promising yet another high end baseball card release later this year.
Company officials confirmed that Stadium Club would indeed be returning in 2014 and after a six-year hiatus and that Topps Tek would also be back. A third new product has been added to the release calendar, this one called Topps Dynasty, a higher end brand that as of now, remains a bit of a mystery.
Collectors who grew up with Stadium Club will remember it as the first real premium product of its day while Tek was a variation/parallel monster with its 1998 debut set featuring only 90 different players on acetate stock but with 90 different background patterns for collectors to chase. There was also a 'Diffraction' parallel option issued one in every six packs, meaning a total of 8,100 different cards were created.
Stadium Club was always a major hit in terms of collector preference and as many of the 1990's collectors are now returning to the hobby as adults (and sometimes bringing their kids), Stadium Club fits right in with that generation more than the "gambling" products such as Five Star or Tribute.
On a personal level I'm very happy to see the Stadium Club brand return. We recently wrote about the 1991 Stadium Club set as the beginning of the "super-premium" run and one aspect of Stadium which never changed until the brand went away for its vacation was how much SC was appreciated by your average collector.
Now Topps Tek has a shorter but even more interesting run. What was amazing to me was several collectors claimed on the Beckett Message board they had completed all 8100 versions but never wanted to be publicized for that although they were posting on the BMB. We always honored their request for privacy. You know, similar to the Upper Deck Yankee Legacy Collection contest of a few years ago, this would be a great contest to have someone acquire a version of all 8.100 variants. I wonder if Topps has even thought about such a contest this time unlike the last time they ran Tek as an issue. Talk about a way to generate interest for a product.
Also Monday, Upper Deck announced its upcoming 2014 football product would have no redemption cards. The Collegiate Licensing-backed set is due out April 16 with three autographs per box at around $90.
One thing never changes is all the leagues, manufacturers and dealers vowing to work together and while they always talk a good game very little ever actually change in this hobby. Dealers will still complain that retail not only gets product first but gets them at better terms and levels. Yes, it is frankly easier on everyone’s budget to buy a $20 blaster box then a hobby box. We have actually broken down in many cases that retail can be a better deal for a collector if they are looking for specific items such as when I was chasing the giveaways in 2010 and 2011 where once the hobby boxes went past $60, retail was a better deal.
For card companies, one of their constant complaints is not getting athletes to honor their commitments to sign autographs. Many of us, including myself, are owed cards from Topps, in some cases going back 3-4 years. While it is not such as big deal for me, I'd certainly like to have all my redemptions honored and I know I'm not alone in that. But what is a card company to do when a player does not sign? If they push too hard, that can create a backlash with other players and cause even more issues.
One great advantage of Heritage, and I am of the belief even more players should be contacted, is to have those players who had their last card appearance in the card set of the year honored to sign cards for that set. When I see a Jerry Fosnow or a Leo Burke signed card and realize they never had a certified autograph before, to me this is a win-win for Topps as those players are likely less expensive for signings plus they had never signed before. When your email address and Twitter ID begins with a nod to the Society of American Baseball Research (SABR), you really appreciate those cards. Now, hopefully in a few years we can get a signed 1969 Jon Warden card.
For the licensors, the biggest issue will always be to try to get as much money as they can on a short term basis without destroying their long-term interests. That frankly, could be one reason why MLB gave Topps a contract through 2020 a year ago so this could be built up as the years went by. If a licensor asks for too much money, they may get their money one year but if the company has an exclusive and goes out of business, then what long-term good did that contract do anyone? Keeping terms reasonable is actually in the league and the players association’s best interest. No one wants a return to the wild west days of a decade ago when we had more than 90 baseball releases in the 2004 calendar year. That is one every four days and was frankly as unsustainable as the overproduction era of 1987-1994.
A couple more notes: Thank you for the great reception to the Card of the Day series we ran recently. Enough cards have a back story that we will continue to bring them to you and we, as always, want to hear from you in terms of what cards you would like to see featured. Send me an email at the address below.
In addition, although we were not able to add any more cards to the 1999 Topps Crystal checklist in our last COMC Challenge, we will continue to feature the segment as we receive information about previously un-catalogued cards. And of course, Rich’s Ramblings will also continue to mosey down memory lane or cover new topics as needed.
Rich Klein can be reached at [email protected]