Six years ago, in January 2018, I wrote a blog post with 5 suggestions to improve the sports card industry. I felt my ideas would benefit the collecting community and allow it to grow in the coming years.
During 2017, the signs of a sports card recovery were starting to bubble up. Aaron Judge burst onto the scene and was one of the drivers of increased demand on the MLB side. More hobby content was starting to launch, and it seemed like more returning collectors like me were showing up on message boards, shows, and hobby shops.
Well, the hobby powers that be, took a look at my suggestions, swatted them aside, and gave me a big Dikembe Mutombo finger wave. At least that’s what they did for three of them.
For this month’s article, I thought it might be fun to take a look back at those ideas to see if I would have the same advice today or if the last six years would change my perspective!
5) Get Rid of Exclusive Licenses
Not only did this not happen, you could argue that it got even worse. We still have exclusive licenses for all the major sports and entertainment products and now we are headed towards one manufacturer owning more of those exclusives.
At the time I said this:
“With the lack of competition, collectors have the perception that the manufacturer can do whatever they want with no accountability. And for the most part they are right. If a company puts out a questionable product we can either say oh well and continue to spend our hard earned dollars on it, or we don’t buy any that sport’s cards anymore.
In addition to pricing and accountability, the lack of competition impacts the creative process of card design and the type of products being produced. It becomes easy for marketing and customer service to take a backseat when their customers have no other options.”
Well, I’m am still very comfortable with the concerns I’ve outlined with exclusive licenses and I think several of those concerns played out exactly like I’ve described.
Lack of competition continues to hurt the collector.
4) Create More Entry Level Products
This was a call for manufacturers to not solely cater to hit chasers. My concerns were driven by the prices we were starting to see with sealed wax. I was especially concerned with the mid to high end of the product mix.
Little did I know what was going to be coming for sealed wax.
We did get Topps Big League as a new low end product, and a few Panini basketball and football releases had a heavy retail push which allowed for a lower price point for a couple years. But the “Wax Boom” took even the base level products to new highs.
For a few years, the idea of “affordable” wax went right out the window, but collectors continued to gobble it up. The demand for sealed wax grew despite the astronomical prices.
3) Manufacturers Work Together to Help Build the Hobby
This one is right up there with the suggestion about exclusive licenses.
In my original article I said:
“Manufacturers need to listen to the concerns of their retailers and their customers. Shops need coaching on how to develop a robust business plan that incorporates online and brick and mortar strategies. They need to learn how to build their social engagement, etc, and the manufacturers can play a role in helping that happen. Manufacturers can also lead when it comes to implementing a plan to get more people interested in collecting.
There used to be an Industry Summit with all manufacturers represented. Now each manufacturer does their own thing. That makes it difficult to build excitement and create a healthy culture in the industry.”
Six years after my call for manufacturers to start working together to help build the industry all we have is them suing each other (multiple times). The Industry Summit and the Mint Collective could have been opportunities to bring all segments of the hobby ecosystem together to grow, learn, and build excitement, but those events seem to be defunct.
Topps and Upper Deck continue to have their own events. I don’t think we’re going to see Manufactures working together anytime soon.
2) Quit Complaining and Adapt
While my first three suggestions were primary targeted to the manufacturers, the last two were more focused on hobby shops and collectors.
The need to continue to learn and adapt was absolutely necessary with the change we saw in the hobby over the last few years. The shops and collectors who were able to adapt have had some of the best collecting years of their lifetimes. The ones who didn’t adapt have been complaining non-stop since 2020.
1) Collect What You Like
“We need to quit putting each other down for what we like to collect and the way we like to collect it.
Just because you may not like a product, doesn’t mean other people can’t love it.”
That’s how I started that section, and to be honest, I needed to listen to my own advice a few times over the years. There were times I was having trouble adapting to some of the changes the hobby was seeing. However, I do think some of the growth we saw over the last several years was because there were a ton of people who were embracing the ”collect what you like” mentality. That allowed for pretty much every segment of the hobby to grow.
There is no question that the hobby has grown over the last six years. And while I still think my suggestions would be positive for the hobby, clearly they weren’t required for growth.
Are we going to see continued growth over the next 6 years?
I don’t know.
I believe we have more people collecting cards today than we did in 2018. I know there continues to be a huge untapped market of sports and entertainment fans across the world who don’t currently collect cards.
Will we be able to help more of those fans see how collecting cards can add to their fan experience? How it can help connect them to the game, athlete, or star?
If so, I think we’re in for a great future.