If the NFL Players Association has indeed shut Topps out of a 2010 license, most hobbyists question whether it’s the right move.
Topps’ first NFL football card set hit the market in 1956. With the exception of four years in the middle 1960s, the company has been a traditional part of the football experience every year. That could be coming to an end.
Beckett reported yesterday that the NFLPA has decided not to renew Topps’ license for 2010. While neither Topps nor the NFLPA is officially confirming anything, the move would fall in line with a push toward contraction in the industry. A long-time stalwart losing one of the two most popular sports from its portfolio would still be shocking to hobby shops.
"To see Topps lose the ability to make NHL, NBA and now NFL cards is beyond anything I would have considered five years ago," said Mike Fruitman, long-time owner of Stadium Sports Cards in Colorado. "I always thought that if there is a league that can support three manufacturers, it was certainly the NFL. While it’s still trendy to call ourselves ‘baseball card’ stores, if I had to break down my receipts, I would have to say that by sales alone, for the last five years plus, I would change that to being a ‘football card’ store.
Collectors on internet message boards were also surprised by the possibility of losing a major Topps set. "I hate this," wrote one. "Am I the only one who asks for independent oversight in the card manufacturing business? It seems ridiculous. Now card companies can get away with highway robbery in boxes and packs because there is no competition to keep them in check."
The move would leave Upper Deck and Panini as the sole manufacturers of football trading cards. Panini owns a new exclusive in basketball, Upper Deck holds the only hockey license and Topps is now the only licensed producer of baseball cards, although Upper Deck plans to issue products next year.
While collectors seem to understand the move toward fewer products, many believe eliminating manufacturers isn’t the answer. "I mean, if the manufacturers can afford to pay the for the license and stay in business why shouldn’t they be able to? Limit the number of products…not the number of manufacturers," was one response.
The elimination of manufacturers puts an end to the history behind some long-running products for tradional collectors. Those who buy the same sets each year see the rug being pulled out from under them if Topps can’t offer an NFL set for the first time since 1967.
"I hate this, as a collector who actually likes to collect base cards it is very sad," wrote one Detroit Lions fan at Sports Card Forum. "Many of the Upper Deck and Panini sets have 3-4 base cards for the Lions while Topps year in and year out has 9-10 cards. I guess if you are all about the autos and jersey stuff this is good news, but for us base collectors it sucks."
Card shop owners will now have to convince customers to stay on board with the remaining products, and come up with creative ways to fill whatever void of products may occur when fewer are issued.
"As a hobby shop owner, I’m sure I will feel this negatively at my register next season when customers come in for their base-end Topps, Topps Chrome, Topps Finest, Bowman Chrome, Bowman Sterling and many other products that have become staples for them," Fruitman told Sports Collectors Daily. While his store sells a greater percentage of Upper Deck football products, he knows Topps had loyal customers, too. That means more work for him.
"It will soon be the job of every hobby store owner to convert as many possible Topps customers into Panini and Upper Deck NFL product fans to lessen this impact."
While the modern card market may live and die with the autographs and other limited edition inserts, traditional collectors may stand to lose the most if Topps doesn’t issue its traditional base set as the 2010 season approaches.
"I’m not sure why they would eliminate the brand that has been a hobby mainstay for over 50 years," wrote another forum member. "This will turn off some collectors who still appreciate the classic base sets and lower end products."