Topps will release two products to the general public over the next five days with the arrival of 2014 Topps Mini Baseball on Wednesday and Finest Baseball on August 11. Those in attendance at the National Sports Collectors Convention last week got a jump on everyone else for the Mini product, which was offered to attendees.
The release of Mini was part of the company’s promotional activity at the National. The company’s booth was busy--and loud-- during the show with the distribution of wrapper redemption cards, pack wars and other events. Topps also held a question and answer session with several dozen collectors and others who signed up for Thursday's after hours event.
“It’s very important and it's fun from our perspective to get to interact with the customer, hear some of their thoughts about the products, what we're doing well, what we could be doing better,” said Brand Manager Zvee Geffen. “That interaction goes a long way from a customer happiness standpoint whenever you can make that personal impression so it's something that we like to do. Hopefully everyone comes, has a good time and leaves happy and has a good impression of Topps.”
Marketing Manager Marc Stephens was also in Cleveland, getting feedback from those who buy the company’s products on a regular basis.
“The main goal is to really provide time for our customers to engage with us," he said. "We have very passionate collectors. This is their time when they get to meet us face-to-face. They have great ideas, tell us the good and bad, critical and not so critical. They give us a little bit of everything."
Stephens is hoping to learn from a new generation of collectors, fully realizing that for many, their first experience with the company may not be through a pack of cards.
“My main thing is getting kids involved,” he said. “We try to have the games here at the booth like pack wars and stuff that are very simple. We give out packs and try to get them excited about cards. I think it's a matter of making them relevant again with things like fantasy stats and online games. We’ve got different ways to interact with Topps now. You can buy the physical cards or you can go online and play our BUNT game which is a digital experience so I think it's a matter of getting them engaged with Topps and collecting, whether it’s physical or whether it’s digital. At this point it doesn't matter.”
One point of contention among shop owners and collectors is the inclusion of sticker autographs on certain products. It’s a much-discussed topic and a sore point for many. Often, the company finds itself in a catch 22: Wait for a player to sign his cards and when he doesn’t, issue a redemption card that often takes months or longer to fulfill or if signed stickers are on hand, include them in a product, which is sometimes seen as a negative.
“It’s tough,” Geffen told Sports Collectors Daily. “Obviously, if we had our preference, everything would be on card autographs but you have to look at what it takes to secure that and that's difficult. That’s not entirely my focus. The licensing department coordinates those sessions and negotiates the deals and arranges all of the elements of the autograph part of the business. We do have to work at where the product streets on the calendar, if it's feasible to have an appropriate signing window for guys to sign on card before that product streets so it varies on a product to product basis.”
Geffen serves as brand manager for the company’s Bowman line as well as MLS and English Premier League soccer cards. Topps’ decision to make Bowman a prospect-driven brand years ago has paid dividends. A star player’s first Bowman card is often his most sought after. It’s often that core of collectors who make it the first brand they interact with because of their interest in younger players, some not much older than themselves.
“Bowman is really becoming a flagship brand of its own,” said Geffen. “It’s about creating compelling content, pairing that with autographs, having the best prospects in there. It's really becoming a comprehensive product for us and we feel really strongly about it. I'm developing 2015 Bowman baseball right now. It’s a long product ideation cycle, but something that we're looking into from the brand team and we're excited about it.”