I’m finally sitting down to write my favorite piece of the year, the Mikey Awards. It’s my chance to offer up my own personal sentiments over what I thought worked, failed epically, made this season a winner, worked in spite of things, got hobby egg on its face and basically helped hobby shops in 2017. Looking back, this is going to be remembered as one of the craziest years on record in the sports card industry and that’s saying a lot. I’ll go into more of it in a bit, but MLB has been on fire for multiple years, the NBA is finally showing signs of real life, the NFL is the NFL (meaning that aside from 1992, every year has produced well) and we all have enjoyed two solid years of NHL sales, saw the challenges that faced 17/18 releases and hopefully planned accordingly.
I remember at one point this summer when we were in the middle of some of the craziest MLB sales I have ever seen and signing into the shop’s bank account with my wife present. I joked to her that I was finally worth kidnapping. We have been together for close to 20 years so she kinda gets my sense of humor, but it was an occasion that was worth observing.
At one point I believe there were 10 straight weeks with at least one Topps MLB offering and while I’m not saying it can’t happen again, but should Shohei Ohtani make us forget about Aaron Judge, I’ll gladly “endure” a repeat of the 2017 MLB collecting season.
Before I get into the annual awards, I would like to share this disclaimer. If you are a manufacturer reading this, please don’t hold these against me too badly and I hope you find some of the intended humor, although knowing some manufacturers that is a lot to ask for. If you’re a collector, I probably don’t need the preceding disclaimer.
Rookie Of The Year Award – 2017 Topps Definitive MLB. Fortunately Topps thought it would be a great idea to take its last 2017 NFL offering, add about $140 to the cost, add Aaron Judge rookie autographs and voila, instant success even at close to a grand per box. Boxes offered 6 autos or signed relics and 2 unsigned relics for good measure and shops made enough on cases to make up for those few mistakes Topps made this year, like 2017 Luminaries (that I had really good hopes for and still do).
The Soylent Green Award – Anything Panini Offers In Its First Off The Line Offerings. Sure it’s not 2022 and the world’s people are not forced to consume those who passed in repackaged form, but this program makes me want to puke. I’m sure I’m missing something, but from a shop’s perspective, this has all the markings of all the conspiracy theories we have been allowing ourselves to believe exist at the manufacturer level.
So let’s review – Panini is taking some of it’s most popular offerings, letting collectors who luck out when the ordering window opens purchase boxes with additional content at SEP and get them before hobby shops get them. Effectively, shops are now able to offer watered down, late releases and catch grief when products go up in cost because collectors know what SRP is, even on hot releases like 17/18 Prizm NBA.
Personally, being able to order products either early or with additional content should have been enough to have made this program a success, but putting them together makes hobby shop owners (not just named Mike Fruitman) sick, but with just about all of them selling out on first day, and Panini getting SRP instead of wholesale on those boxes, I don’t see this going away anytime soon. Sadly.
You Did The Impossible And Made 1987 Topps MLB Sexy Again Award – Goes to Topps and their silver bonus packs that accompanied Topps 1 & 2 regular and jumbo hobby boxes. Sure when I heard that Topps had chosen the infamous 1987 wooden bordered design to incorporate with their free pack program I had hesitancy. I’m talking Airplane 2: The Sequel hesitancy. Sure they were free to collectors, but they had the design of the most unattractive card design next to 1991 Fleer MLB. Well, the low numbered parallels and possible autographed cards turned out to be a rocking success. Fortunately Topps announced that they are bringing back this program in 2018 and the 1983 Topps design gets the redo treatment this time around. I already have collectors clamoring for them and a cool poster on my front window announcing them so come January 31, 2018 I’m ready for round 2.
Product Of The Year Award – 2017 Panini Gold Standard NFL. After being off the Panini radar since 2011, Gold Standard NFL returned with a rookie jersey autograph and four additional autographed or relic cards. Early in the season it was bolstered by the performance of Kareem Hunt and Deshaun Watson and I cannot remember the last time one of my distributors offered it to me. Apparently collectors agreed that it was a winner since at this point, on a popular dealer site, it is being bought above cost. Currently only eight 2017 Panini NFL releases have offers over cost, while 21 have below cost offers. Which appropriately leads to…
The How Did 2013 NFL Perform Better Than Any Other Recent Year Award – Goes to the 2017 NFL season. Now for most of you 2013 NFL releases have all the attractiveness of a torn ACL, but at my shop at least, it is among the best sellers because of two factors – incredible affordability and Le’Veon Bell. Usually, in addition to the current season, at least one previous year’s release does something cool.
Sadly in addition to 2017 not being all it could be thanks to too many rookie injuries, 2016 faltered because of Ezekiel being suspended, not suspended, suspended, not suspended, suspended, not suspended and Carson Wentz having the aforementioned injury, 2015 suffered because of Amari Cooper puling a David Copperfeldesque disappearing act and Jameis Winston again not being the QB he was supposed to be, 2014 losing Derek Carr for part of the season and Odell for much more of it, 2012 getting unLucky even before the season began and 2011 getting Kaepernicked along with JJ Watt suffering his annual significant injury. Yes, somehow 2013, the laughing-stock of the last decade worth of releases somehow was the shining light among NFL products. Fine, it won’t pay for my kid’s college, but at least it didn’t fall on its face…yet…
Most Valuable Player Award. – Aaron Judge. Yeah, I know big surprise there. While many athletes impacted my business this year, it is safe to say that Aaron’s spectacular rookie summer drove more collectors into my shop in a way that I can’t remember. Sure Shaq, LeBron, Crosby and others had similar if not more spectacular first impressions, but for Judge to rule the entire collecting spring, summer and fall puts him in a class almost to himself alone. It seemed that each successive new Topps release was more anticipated than the last.
I guess each year we simply need a Yankees rookie to hit more home runs further than thought possible for sports card store owners to feel happier than ever that they were able to purchase directly from Topps as well as Panini. There was a two month stretch where there was pretty much a new Topps release each week and we were like air traffic controllers, anxiously awaiting each product to land. I had to flash back to 03/04 NBA releases to remember not placing price tags on my new releases as I tried to keep up with the steadily increasing restock pricing. If I had to take a shot for each time I quoted someone “market price” on a new box, I would have spent the summer more tipsy than Harry Caray did.
You Don’t Mind Buying These Other Products I Hope Award – 2016 National Treasures NFL. 2016 National Treasures was going to be a massive hit and we all knew it well in advance. Even though it released in March of 2017, I had collectors asking for it well before Christmas. Just like in previous years, it was going to help reward shops for purchasing the countless cases we did throughout the season. Shortly before it was solicited, shops were told by their distributors that case allocations were no longer a reward for their previous purchases, but would now be tied to only buying cases of either 2016 Panini Immaculate Collegiate NFL or 2016 Panini National Treasures Collegiate NFL.
While I still ended up with five or six cases of the regular NT NFL, I probably would have gotten seven or eight based on my normal ordering and would not have had to break even on the numerous cases of Immaculate and NT College version that I brought in. One interesting byproduct of this was that my collectors fell in like with those versions and I got to break even on 5 or 6 case breaks instead of making money on them.
Panini Black Friday Promotion Of The Year Award – 2017 National Hobby Shop Day. So you know, I had to retire Black Friday from this award because like Red Rocks and the outdoor amphitheater award, they can’t just keep winning it every year, even though they deserve to. Full disclosure, I came up with NHSD with two other shop owners and it took GTS Distribution to make it happen. They offered shops all sorts of autographed items with qualifying purchases to share with their collectors.
My store stepped up and dropped almost $30K on products and had the coolest night ever in my history giving away autographed pieces from Frank Thomas, Magic Johnson, Todd Gurley, Jerry Rice, Joe Montana, Christian McCaffrey, Manny Pacquiao and others. I’m hoping that NHSD comes back in 2017 with a few tweaks and that more shops are able to offer these rewards to their collectors as well.
We Don’t Actually Know How This Happened Award – 2016 Panini Prizm Dak Prescott Autographed Redemption Card and the Autopen machine. I’m sure I’m leaving quite a bit out, but basically Dak doesn’t know how these came to exist, his representation doesn’t know how these came to exist and Panini does not know how these came to exist. I guess they don’t exist and I feel like that episode of Dallas (see what I did there) where Bobby is in the shower the start the season and whatever bad happened the season before got wiped away, like sands through the hourglass.
It’s My Puck And If I Can’t Play, Nobody Can Play Award – Leaf. A few years ago when Leaf signed Jack Eichel to an exclusive autograph agreement, it was annoying, but thanks to Connor McDavid, it took a lot of the sting out of it. Move forward to this year with a less impressive rookie crop of skating rookies and Leaf signs Nolan Patrick to an exclusive contract. Without a Connor to help sales, it was made even more interesting when Leaf also signed Nico Hischier all to themselves.
Now I understand that Leaf and Upper Deck get along as well as Israel and most of its neighbors, and have made almost as many lawyers rich as divorce itself, but as a shop owner, I rely upon popular products to offer my collectors and the amount of additional Leaf products I expect to sell versus the amount of Upper Deck sales I expect to lose does not match up. I also understand that Brian Gray hustles (in the complimentary sense of the word) more than any other manufacturer. He needs to eat and he has employees that need to eat. One day I would like to see him make a move like this without taking money out of the mouths of card store owners.
This has happened numerous times before, most notably with UD signing Ben Simmons to an exclusive without any NBA products to offer. Perhaps one day the player associations will intervene and stop these exclusives from happening, but with so much money on the line, I sadly don’t see that happening anytime soon. Until then, manufacturers who have league exclusives will have to act like married partners who have to concern themselves with having to make sure they are the only ones able to be intimate with their significant others, and that’s as clean as I can type that.
Conference Of The Year Award – Upper Deck. Part of me is happy to recognize UD for their efforts in Arizona in January of this year and part of me is sad to have to do so. The Industry Summit used to be something I looked forward to for 360 or so days. I have never been to The National, so the Summit was the best chance I had each year to work with industry partners from manufacturers, distributors, other vendors and most importantly my hobby shop owning brothers. For any number of reasons, Upper Deck decided to offer up their own event and it reminded me of the “glory days” of the Industry Summit in Hawaii with incredible breakout sessions followed up by over the top evening events.
UD brought in outside speakers and seemingly everyone from their offices was available to discuss the interworking of their operations. The day’s meetings were topped off with parties with Mike Modano the first evening and Mike Tyson spending 6.23 seconds with us each on the second night.
Looking ahead to 2018, Upper Deck has their meeting planned in January in Orlando, Topps is taking their first event to Arizona in time for Spring Training to begin and Panini/Leaf/Beckett/Tristar has relocated their annual Las Vegas event to Dallas a week or so after Topps’ event. As a shop owner, I would like to attend all three, but realize that would be incredibly difficult when you factor in flights, hotel rooms, hoping to get shop coverage, missed buying opportunities from collectors who walk in and everything else that goes with leaving my shop for 9-10 days a year instead of the previous 4-5 it took. I understand that if I had a magic wand that there might be more pressing matters in the hobby to fix, but somewhere near the top of my list would be getting everyone back together in some fashion so that I didn’t have to miss out on improving my business and sharing ideas with other shops so they could improve their stores as well.
Card Of The Year #1 Award – Trevor Kling Heroic Inspirations Upper Deck Card. Now as some of you might read this, you might be wondering who Trevor Kling is. He wasn’t drafted in the first round by the Cubs, he didn’t break the rookie scoring record in the NHL, he didn’t appear on ESPN after slamming down on LeBron and he didn’t score the winning TD in the Super Bowl. What he did do was battle brain cancer with all the strength and dignity possible for someone at the age of 14. My son Sam would push me to drive faster each morning to his school so he could meet Trevor and help him into school since they grew up together.
Throughout his treatments, Trevor was our “table security” for our autograph sessions when he felt well enough and was available on those days. He beat it once while maintaining a 3.87 GPA in spite of his treatments and sadly passed away when it returned. I approached Upper Deck about making a card to recognize Trevor and Chris Carlin was able to make it happen without a second request.
I offered the cards for a suggested $5 donation at my shop with 100% of the amount raised going to assist the Kling family with their expenses from Trevor’s treatment and was amazed at how many of my collectors and people who had never purchased a sports card came in to pick them up. So far, thanks to Upper Deck, thousands of dollars has been raised in donations because of the cards and I still have plenty left. Yes, I’ll gladly send them out to you if you would like one and feel free to hit me up at ca[email protected] if you might like one or two (or 10 for your local baseball team since Trevor loved to play baseball). I’ll choose another card for #2, but in my opinion, there was no greater card made this year.
Card Of The Year #2 Award – 2017 Topps Masterwork Heroes & Villains 20 Signature Autograph Booklet #d 1/1. Someone at Topps must have been feeling mighty creative and generous when they thought up this gem. It basically has every single autograph one could hope for from Star Wars unless you have to attend every single Star Wars convention out there. It has autographs from Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker, Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia Organa, Billy Dee Williams as Lando Calrissian, Harrison Ford as Han Solo, Anthony Daniels as C-3PO, Kenny Baker as R2-D2, Daisy Ridley as Rey, John Boyega as Finn, Felicity Jones as Jyn Erso, Forest Whitaker as Saw Gerrera, Ian McDiarmid as Supreme Chancellor Palpatine, Hayden Christensen as Anakin Skywalker, Matthew Wood as General Grevious, Ray Park as Darth Maul, Jeremy Bulloch as Boba Fett, Clive Revell as Voice of Emperor Palpatine, Eric Bauserfield as Bib Fortuna, Dave Barclay as Jabba the Hutt, Andy Serkis as Supreme Leader Snoke, & Adam Driver as Kylo Ren. You know it gets bonus points for not having Ahmed Best, the voice of Jar Jar Binks.
Why Isn’t this Loved More Award – 2017 Leaf Q. A few years back Leaf Q was released and it quietly blew away those who paid attention to it. I understand that Leaf is not licensed by any of the leagues and can be a slight thorn in our sides as you read above, but when I heard that Q was coming back, I lined up five (or six, I kinda forget) to take care of those collectors who had fond experiences with it the first time around. Boxes offer a single pack and there are five autographed or relic cards in each one.
Looking at the checklist, the “scrub” autographs include Lawrence Taylor, Bob Griese, Robin Yount, Jim Kelly, Tim Brown and Warren Moon. Stop for a second and think of the last box you opened from the sports those players play and you tell me if you don’t wish you pulled an autograph from a player who was at least that good. Brian asked me to throw in something nice for him, but I was going to wax poetic already about Q so I don’t feel like I’m on the take. He has a great skill of knowing which players aren’t just collectible, but whose autographs are actually sought after like Shawn Kemp, Ric Flair, Allen Iverson, Lionel Messi, Jose Canseco, Bo Jackson and others who make checking out Q a good A.
Most Valuable Product Award – 2017 Topps Inception MLB. Ok, like many things I type, this probably doesn’t make too much sense, but it will. When Inception hit in mid May, I put it out for $59 a box which was high compared to where I usually start things off compared to cost. I don’t want to be too specific, but the cost was under $40 per box. By the time the first weekend after it released passed, I had sold out and went online to reload. The only problem was that it had jumped into the mid $60s and the line of buyers far exceeded those who were selling. I don’t want Topps to get the wrong idea, but they could easily bump the cost on this gem a few bucks and not too many people would avoid buying it.
In addition to looking incredible, it was the first release to really enjoy the “Aaron Judge Effect” and at one point, wholesale was approaching triple digit levels. It helped establish the hype for seemingly every other MLB release that followed in 2017 and if it too early to say I’m already looking forward to when it comes back in 2018?
Man I Hope This Is The Start Of Something Big Award – 17/18 Panini Draft NBA. Unlike the NFL where it is common to have multiple releases with rookies before the draft actually happens, it takes much longer for cards of the recent NBA draftees to hit the market. The NBA draft was on June 22nd and between then and September 6th the hype over Lonzo Ball, Jayson Tatum, Dennis Smith Jr and others gave shop owners and collectors flashbacks to 03/04 NBA, 05/06 NHL, 2012 NFL and 15/16 NHL successes.
When Panini Draft NBA hit, it legitimized all of our hopes. Shops didn’t get too much of it to begin with since it was tied to support of 16/17 NBA offerings. Almost immediately Lonzo autographs were clearing $1,000 and around that time, other 17/18 releases were being solicited. Since card shop owners, myself included have sheep like tendencies, we were stepping up for everything that said basketball on it.
So there you have it, the 2017 Mikey Awards in all their glory. Was I right? Was I wrong? Who cares as long as you thought, hopefully laughed and gave thought to sharing this with others. Feel free to go to the Sports Collectors Daily Facebook page to offer up your own awards or comment on what you thought I left out. I won’t take it personally. So, I think you know how I feel about 2017. May the sports card collecting part of 2018 meet or exceed it, may your redemption cards be infrequent and may health once again find itself in the NFL, I think we’re due a 2016 NFL year again after this current one.
A happy, safe and fun New Year to you all.
Mike Fruitman owns Mike’s Stadium Sportscards in Aurora, CO. His column focuses on what products are selling best in hobby shops. He’s got thousands of cards for sale on COMC.com under the ID cardmn5150. Enjoy new arrivals and big hits from Mike’s on Twitter. Mike’s is always looking for more friends on Facebook and you can email him at [email protected]