In the eight months that have passed since Topps named Patrick O’Sullivan brand manager of Topps’ e-commerce, he’s had to endure a lifetime of changes in baseball. You know things are different when there are cards featuring an infectious disease specialist and others of players wearing masks on the field.
These days when his wife asks him why he’s watching so much baseball he has a good explanation.
“We’re definitely keeping a close eye each night so we can see the big plays, comeback victories or great performances,” he said. “We have to stay abreast of all of that and try to capture as much as we can.”
O’Sullivan’s responsibilities include the Topps Now product that daily celebrates the biggest moments in the sport. Now that the games are back, the job is a little more fun.
Launched in 2016, the on-demand platform has continued and expanded to other sports and entertainment realms. Topps Now cards are only available for only 24 hours, with print runs revealed once the order window closes. Autographed versions of some cards are sometimes part of the offering. Whether it’s Luis Robert’s debut or a daily accounting of Aaron Judge’s home run streak, O’Sullivan’s team has to stay on their toes.
As a licensee of Major League Baseball, part of the challenge is to make sure Topps uses not only images that collectors appreciate, but also meet with MLB’s approval. The quick turnaround times can be a challenge. “We keep an eye on the clock as we try to get the release out on sale in a timely matter,” he said.
During this crazy 2020 baseball season there have been other obstacles, too. While Topps photographers were able to attend spring training in the days prior to the stoppage of action due to COVID-19, tracking down other images can be an issue with events taking place virtually and no college or minor league games taking place.
“The Topps team of editors was called upon to get any sort of photography of Spencer Torkelson retouched into a Tigers uniform,” said O’Sullivan after the Arizona State University infielder was selected first overall by Detroit in the 2020 MLB draft.
With or without games taking place, Topps has had to figure out ways to put new products on its website. Prior to the season’s 60-game startup last month, the company filled the void of daily MLB-oriented releases by creating a Turn Back The Clock version of Now, with cards commemorating milestones and moments that occurred on that day in baseball history. Even with the standard Now cards returning, the Turn Back The Clock program has continued.
O’Sullivan is also in charge of the recently released Topps T206 product, another online exclusive that melds current major and minor leaguers into a design based on the famous cigarette cards issued from 1909-1911. The cards are sold in pack form with five different series that include 50 cards each.
“We have done iterations of the original trading card in the last decade and were looking for something that would be fun and resonate with old time collectors,” O’Sullivan said. “The T206 program was fun to put together because it’s looking at a different medium with a smaller card and those kind of painted backgrounds and we tried to put a wrinkle with some of the rare back variations from all the different companies that would have issued cards in that era.”
Another project for O’Sullivan is Project 2020 with 20 artists each putting their own spin on 20 well-known Topps cards from the past. Two cards are offered each weekday, with a 48-hour sales window.
“This has really been a fun collaboration with some artists maybe well-known or not well-known that have been involved with street art or maybe more classical art or graphic design,” O’Sullivan explained.
The program has been a big revenue generator. Topps has sold over 1.7 million Project 2020 cards, with the program approaching the halfway point.
In the middle of the pandemic, Topps also announced a deal with Derek Jeter for an ongoing endorsement deal that includes new cards commemorating his Hall of Fame career and autographs.
So what is next that is on the drawing board? O’Sullivan could not reveal too much but he did offer a hint. “We’re always trying to come up with something new and fun, right now we’ve been trying really hard to come up with a product that harkens back to baseball history.”