Recently, the Net 54 message board had a great thread about “The future of the hobby”. It’s been a constant theme in the past few years because what we have done as a hobby is evolve over time and I suspect we will continue into a brand new world which none of us are totally ready for.
Think about how things were just 15 years ago when a lot of business was still being conducted in person and collectors were gung-ho for players such as Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa as they demolished the old single season home run record held by Roger Maris. At the same time, these players were bringing back interest in various card sets issued during the “junk wax era”. I remember going into a card shop run by my good friends Bob and Arlene Miller in Elmwood Park, New Jersey and watching grown men put down $300 each for 1985 Topps McGwire rookies. While that frenzy had to end someday, that type of sales rush can keep you in business for a while.
However, after the home run chase and the magical summer of 1998 ended, reality began to set back into the card market with prices returning to earth and the hobby continued to evolve.
1999 brought a new found interest in memorabilia cards as Upper Deck brought us the Piece of History 500 Home Run Club relics. Do you remember what great hits those were when pulled from packs? There was also a significant increase in autographed cards coming out of packs. Sets such as SP Authentic had many nice hits, except for the box we opened at Beckett which had John Olerud and Shea Hillebrand!
Then as the 21st century began, the hobby had one of those magical years where every baseball product turned to gold as Albert Pujols and Ichiro Suzuki came out of nowhere and became superstars. Since many stores were still doing well thanks to the success of rookie-fueled products and the the growth of the Internet fueled the market, in some ways that 1998-2002 period was truly a second golden era for the hobby.
Some of the ramifications from that era still run true today. Those include not having official rookie cards until a player, you know, actually plays in the majors. All licensors want a repeat of 2001 and while that is not always possible because not every year produces a great rookie (let’s face it Angel Berroa was never going to sell any products although fellow rookie Hideki Matsui did help in that regard) but the rule makes sense. Who, other than some dedicated prospectors, really needs cards of players several years before they are seen on a nightly basis?
Now more than a decade after that, our hobby has evolved to where the new trend is ‘group case breaks’ and I’m frankly shocked more store owners have not stepped up into that world. My local card store (Triple Cards, Plano TX) last did a case break (by teams) about two years ago and considering his recent comments about not selling enough product, why not spice up the box sales with a community event such as this?
To me, case breaks and events such as Pack Wars are really up most collectors’ alley and might actually bring some new customers into the store. I know at the 2013 National, it seemed like every time I turned around there was a new group breaking cases and setting up their groups. There are hundreds of opportunities on eBay to take part by buying a spot in a break.
So for the newer collectors the world has evolved into breaks, hits and gambling. Of course, that is not always so bad as that is the type of element which draws in new collectors, especially younger ones. As a hobby we’re always looking to bring in younger collectors with money and I will wager that many of these people end up as long-term collectors.
Another way to bring in new hobbyists and keep current ones interested is to keep pushing new and exciting Internet groups. I bring up that at the last Craig Ranch show I set up at there was a nice young man and his family and he was trading with like- minded collectors using a brand new Internet trading tool where their collection/inventory was posted on line. So with that as an example, I pretty much guarantee you that some of more technologically brilliant young collectors will come up with new systems which might someday rival eBay and be less expensive.
And while I’m pretty sure young collectors will figure out a way to collect modern cards what will happen to older cards? You know, for the past year that I’ve been doing the Dallas Card Show, I have had plenty of collectors for older cards of all age groups. While some of the younger collectors just want names they know, other collectors want to start building collections and many of them have discovered their parents love to spend time helping them with their collections. With some parental guidance I think we will continue to see younger collectors discover the world of older cards. When I read through the comments on Net 54, I was personally encouraged by how young as a group the pre-World War II collectors are. I personally know of several dedicated pre-War collectors who are 25 years old or younger.
But, what has changed, and somewhat permanently, is the decrease in the number of shows and stores. When I first moved to Dallas in 1990, there was a show just about every weekend and while some were better than others, you could usually find one to feed your collecting appetite or just chat with collectors and dealers for an hour or two. Now, even in a big city like this, there is maybe one show a month.
In November, for the first time, I will be setting up at what used to be known as the JMV shows and it will be interesting to see how many collectors come through the door. Also, in the DFW area, I believe there are fewer than 10 stores left with only about 5-6 probably considered full-time businesses.
I did see a post on Facebook from Upper Deck the other day in which they mentioned they had about 1250 accounts in the United States and 400 more in Canada. (This is from memory so if I have these numbers wrong I apologize). That number does not count people who buy cards on-line from either local wholesalers to Dallas such as Hamps or those who buy from places such as Blowout Cards or Dave and Adam’s.
So the hobby has moved on line and lost some of the personal connections but don’t forget there are a lot more options to connect with many more collectors worldwide thanks to the internet. Buzz takes almost no time to develop and sometimes that adds an air of excitement that would have once taken weeks. Those who can combine face-to-face interaction via their store or at a show with a strong on line presence often find tremendous success whether they are in it to make money or anxious to spend it.
So overall, while the hobby has evolved, and yes if you go to a show the hobby has grayed (but not nearly as much as if you attend a coin, stamp or postcard show) the overall future is in my opinion bright for the hobby as collectors are a hardy bunch and will continue to find new ways to meet other collectors to build their collections.
Rich Klein can be reached at [email protected]