Industry Evolves - Poorly Run Companies Don't

I was reading an article on a completely different business the other day, that described a 'cigar butt' type business. Basically a cigar butt business has been on a steady decline for many years - but still has one last puff of smoke left in it that can keep it alive for a little while longer, before burning out for good. 

Sounds like an industry you know???

Sports trading cards aren't quite down to the cigars wrapper, but it's getting close. A while back CBS posted a piece that discussed how kids were long gone from the hobby - and that the hobby will 'die out with the (old) collectors' who are still around today.

Painini's reaction was immediate denial and understandably most collectors felt the same way. In the midst of 'hot' or 'double' rookie class years, things might seem brighter than they appear.

Also, I've never been to a collector coin show or a gun show. But I'd bet a Michael Carter-Williams RC it's all old men at those shows too.

I'm guessing those industries think we'll all get into guns & money as we get older.

They've been right for hundreds of years, so who's to argue with that logic?

So industries can survive, even if only old people are collecting the stuff ... but the card companies haven't evolved over the years to adjust to the times. What exactly does Topps & Panini do differently than the last card company that went broke?

Not much right?


The CBS piece I link to earlier blames, in part, video games for kids leaving the hobby. Appears now that iconic video game maker Nintendo is now realizing their business model is stuck in the 1990's too.

I must be getting old. Nintendo killed sports cards ... now Nintendo is dead?

Super Mario

The card companies business model has not changed since Super Mario 1 came out. And neither has Nintendo's. Sure the consoles, games and sports cards look a little flashier & cost more - but under the hood of Topps, Panini & Nintendo you have the same tired motor they were running in the 1990's.

One strategy I think would be effective for anyone in this industry to do - is to start being honest with your customers!

Often speaking up in the sports card world means you don't get free boxes, you're not welcomed to things like the Industry Summit and you don't rub elbows with the employees of the 'little guys' that run these sports card manufactures. 

But look what Dominoes Pizza did a few years ago. They admitted their pizza sucked - and have embraced trying to make it better since then. The company embraced declining sales & quality - then used it to fuel their growth in the years ahead. 

These sports card idiots have it all wrong!

When the prevailing perception of your product is that it sucks and could get a lot better - the best thing to do is embrace that fact!

Wide-eyed kids don't collect these cards anymore. Your consumers are older and have bills/responsibilities they didn't have when they were 10 years old. On top of that consumers are more educated & informed these days about the products they buy. They appreciate honesty. When Dominoes came forward and admitted something I've known about their product for years - it completely transformed how I thought of that company & I never tried their new pizza!

The elephant in the room of many sports card circles is that it's fading away. But when someone acknowledges that fact - they are belittled by a few hundred people and companies who still have the same practices they did 20 years ago. Your un-invited to industry events and certainly no one will send you something for free.

The very few industry events I've attended - even fewer people in this business are willing to candidly talk about the future of this business. Most are in denial. That goes for card companies, card shop owners, bloggers, group breakers and conference operators. This hobby is fading away in part because of that denial, and the unwillingness to listen to anyone that challenges decade old business practices that by all accounts aren't generating massive profits for anyone in the business.

Forgive me for wanting to help you guys make more money. Instead everyone is so focused on keeping their existing piece of the shrinking pie - they can't see 4 or 5 years in front of them. Anyone who wants to address that question is treated like they don't know what they are talking about.

Dominoes will tell you its profitable to listen to your customers ... even go as far as to put their negative comments in your own TV commercials. People in the sports card business could learn from that. 

Colin T

Orleans Casino - Las Vegas Summit

Dates: March 16 - 19, 2014

The Orleans Casino
4500 West Tropicana Avenue
Las Vegas, NV 89103


More Information: Las Vegas Summit

2014 Las Vegas Sports Card Summit Schedule:  
Sunday - March 16, 2014
  • 11:00 – Registration (the freebies keep getting worse each year)
  • 12:00-3:30 PM – Opening business session, including "Retailer Idea Exchange". First look at the 2014 sport card & collectible survey results. Everyone in the sports card industry had such a bad year last year, but we will find a way to make sure the industry butt kissers put a positive spin on things.
  • 3:30 PM to 6:30 PM – Show floor open, featuring displays from industry companies desperate for money.
  • 7 PM – Retailer Reception (everyone bounces out to live the Vegas life)

Monday - March 17, 2014
  • 9:00-11:00 – Sports Auction Panel Discussion moderated by ESPN's Michele Steele and Kelsey Schroyer. Who gets their sports card information from ESPN? Who cares, she's cute.
  • 11:00-12:30 PM -- SOLUTION SESSIONS:  Breakout sessions targeting industry growth opportunities. While there really aren't any growth opportunities out there, we will tell you how to break your back for 70 hours a week to make barely above minimum wage.
  • Not much else - go play some craps
Tuesday - March 18, 2014
  • 7:45-8:45 AM – Breakfast/presentation
  • Hit the buffet up, the breakfast provided might be weak
  • 12:30-1:30 PM – Industry luncheon
  • 1:30-5 PM (CONCURRENT) 90-minute, sport-specific market-development sessions

    Hockey: 1:30 PM-3 PM - Only suckers Upper Deck and Panini America make licensed NHL cards. The cards are nice, but both companies WISH they made MLB ones. Ice up son!

    Baseball: 1:30 PM-3 PM - Topps will be offering free expired redemption cards to everyone in attendance.

    Football: 3:30 PM-5 PM - When there are good NFL rookies, buy up. When the rookie class sucks, like 2013, we'll keep cranking out product! Topps and Panini can afford a bad year. Who cares if card shop owners and group breakers can't?

    Basketball: 3:30 PM-5 PM - Panini blows off tons of money each year producing NBA basketball cards. But let's come up with some ideas how you can lose money too!

At some point Panini will give away Black Boxes and everyone will be joyous for a second.

Wednesday - March 19, 2014
  • Everyone leaves on Tuesday night or this morning. Not much to do this day.

Corporate Partners

Panini America - Their products are so horrible but they make up for it by lavishing dealers with gifts and Black Boxes at the Summit. Panini could end up broke in five years (like every other card company except Topps) but at least they give a damn about you!

Beckett Media - Book prices are out of date, the marketplace is clunky, but old men still flock daily!

Upper Deck - When you go from the top of the sports card the bottom, it's hard to stay relevant. They are hanging on by a string hoping for a buyer.

Wholesale Distributors - They rent a 0.35/cents sq ft warehouse and set up a laptop. Card companies love them because distributors wipe all the inventory off their books. Sluuuuurp!

The Pit - One time I made $50 in a month "flipping" cards on The Pit. That was like ten years ago. They were once owned by Topps and called every month to check in. No. For real.

Topps - The plan to get an exclusive MLB license was hatched even before Topps was sold in 2007. I guess none of the ones complaining about such exclusive paid any attention back then. How's that gum taste!





Ryan Tedards

Orleans Casino - Las Vegas Summit

Dates: March 16 - 19, 2014

The Orleans Casino
4500 West Tropicana Avenue
Las Vegas, NV 89103


2014 Las Vegas Sports Card Summit Schedule:  
  • 11:00 – Registration (the freebies keep getting worse each year)
  • 3:30 PM to 6:30 PM – Show floor open, featuring displays from industry companies desperate for money.
  • 7 PM – Retailer Reception (everyone bounces out to live the Vegas life)

  • 9:00-11:00 – Sports Auction Panel Discussion moderated by ESPN's Michele Steele and Kelsey Schroyer.
  • Not much else - go play some craps

  • 7:45-8:45 AM – Breakfast/presentation
  • Hit the buffet up, the breakfast provided might be weak
  • 12:30-1:30 PM – Industry luncheon
  • That's about it

At some point Panini will give away Black Boxes and everyone will be joyous for a second.

  • Everyone leaves on Tuesday night or this morning. Not much to do this day.

EXCLUSIVE: Full 2014 Las Vegas Industry Summit Schedule




The Las Vegas Industry Summit had a long history of gathering sports card professionals together for an annual conference. Roughly 300-400 people attend, consisting of a collection of sports card shop owners, card company employees, and a mixture of others trying to make some money in the sports card game. Corporate sponsors pay $3,195-5,000+ for "booths" and presentations where they can try and promote their business to those attending. This is not a "card show" like the NSCC. The Industry Summit is a place to go if you have a business venture and are trying to gain contacts or customers.

Sports Card Radio Gets the Boot
The last three years I've been to the Las Vegas Summit. The tone of the Summit is in large part tailored to brick and mortar store owners. That's not really my game. I failed at running a sports store. I don't go to the Summit in hopes of making contacts to grow any type of sports card business I have now. In all honesty, sports cards is a very small business where I only see a few people and companies who can make real money. By real money I mean millions. Aside from the few "real ballers" there are thousands of people in the sports card game trying to scratch out about $28,000 or less a year. I'm not going to break my back in the sports card game for that kind of money.

So for me, it's fun to go to the Summit and post tweets on Twitter with updates about what is going on. Twitter is a niche thing in the sports card world. I wouldn't say a lot of "collectors" are on there. The sports card community on Twitter is filled with people usually trying to promote/sell something. Actually, it's the perfect demographic for the Summit, as you can probably count on one hand how many "true collectors" attend the event in Vegas. Twitter isn't really my game either. Aside from a few key times of the year, I don't tweet that much. It actually sounds stupid to even be writing about how much I tweet. For me, there are easier ways to monetize, and get traffic to content I create on the web......and I'm not limited to 140 characters.

One thing to keep in mind, card company employees and the Summit event organizers are very wrapped up into Twitter. Some of these guys must check their phone 150 times a day. It's a key place for Topps, Panini, Group Breakers, and anyone else trying to scratch out a living to promote their business. For me, it's a perfect place to blast off on them. When collectors are having issues with customer service and redemptions, Twitter is the best place to go and let Topps know about it.

It's probably hard to believe, I know, but people email Sports Card Radio everyday. Usually they want to know about a specific set or what something is worth. The last couple years a lot of emails have been about customer service issues, mostly pertaining to Topps. In 2013 I looked at the Summit as an opportunity to tee off on sports card company employees on Twitter and let them know their customers weren't happy. Not everything I posted was negative, but I did have some Nick Young moments and got some shots up. Because of those Twitter posts from last year, I was told I would not be able to attend in 2014 shortly after registering this year. If I was 2014 Las Vegas Industry Summit organizer Kevin Isaacson I wouldn't have let me attend either! It's one of the few smart things I've seen him do as Summit organizer.


Censored Hobby
The "media" that covers the hobby is weak and soft. Sports cards in general have plummeted in popularity since the mid-1990's, yet you rarely see discussion about how and why that happened. And more importantly, why it continues to be a weak business today. Hobby "media" tends to ignore the declining business and will generally pimp and promote anything that comes out of the corporate offices of Panini, Topps and Upper Deck. You can see why the hobby media would steer in that direction. If you want to pick up a check at the end of the week, you better not make anyone at Topps or Panini upset with your news organization. If it means putting food on your table, by all means, pimp every set like it's as great as 1952 Topps.

Summit organizers limiting who can attend their event will also further the soft approach to covering sports cards. If you ever want to attend, or plan to attend the Vegas gig, you better not be barking on Twitter. Trust me! Company employees and Summit organizers could care less about cut and pasted articles on a website. They don't care about your radio show or podcast. I've spent countless hours promoting crappy sets of cards. I've spent waaaaaaay more hours helping to promote crappy sets of cards than I can even count. I'm also not a fool. These card companies don't make collectible cards. They come out with way too many products. Only a few sets each year are any good. There are very few people with any passion in this industry. Most are just trying to pick up that meager check each week. Shame on me for wanting the industry to shoot for higher aspirations.

And oh - some of you "media members" are real jerks to some decent collectors who email you. Why don't you light up a card company for coming out with their 26th set during a month? Why are you dogging a collector? Damn that pisses me off.


Kevin Isaacson
Isaacson pulled me out of an Amazon presentation to discuss "my tweets on Twitter" during the 2013 Summit. He estimated that I had 750 tweets during the four day event. I was impressed he took the time to count, that couldn't have been easy. He did have an issue with a few of the things I had posted, mainly one that said he was responsible for "double selling" a spot in a group break he was collecting payments for. The double selling created confusion and upset a store owner who had never been involved in a group break before.

I told Isaacson that he shouldn't be so concerned about my posts on Twitter. I said "I'm going to go home and watch baseball, I could care less about this (expletive)." His response "Me too!" The Las Vegas Industry Sports Card Summit is a money making venture for Isaacson. He has very little other dealings in the sports card industry.

I remember a conversation I had with him a couple years ago, kind of before the whole "group breaking" boom. I told him that if I had a group breaking business I would be worried that Blowout Cards and DA Card World would start doing breaks and that could squeeze the already tight margins. Card shop owners already know all about this game. Collectors love Blowout Cards and DA Card World. I've yet to find a card shop owner with anything nice to say about them. Isaacson laughed me off the phone at the notion Blowout and DA would conduct group breaks saying they were strictly a pack and ship business (isn't that what group breaking is, but just more work involved?). Currently Blowout and DA Card World are selling group break spots. I could go on with other examples about Isaacson, but the key thing to know about him is that he actually knows very little about the sports card industry. When the 2014 Las Vegas Sports Card Summit is over, he's going to go home and watch baseball too.


Mark Sapir's Hands Were Shaking
One of Isaacson's BFF is former Topps employee Mark Sapir. I always found that Sapir didn't seem to have a care in the world about collectors when he worked at Topps. The customer service problems they were having while he was employed, he would brush off, saying that wasn't his department.

During a Topps presentation at the 2013 Summit, I went on Twitter and voiced my displeasure about the way Topps was handling some things. It seemed like a good time. The funny thing was, Sapir, who was in charge of the Topps Twitter account at the time, was like 20 feet away from me and I could see him constantly scrolling through his phone to check. He looked like a clown. He could care less that 200 card shop owners were in the room to hear what Topps had to say. All Sapir cared about was what I was saying on Twitter. Idiot.

After the presentation, I was gathering up my stuff when Sapir approached me. The first words out of his mouth were "What's your deal? You don't want to have some kind of partnership? It's like that?" His hands were shaking. On my life, his hands were shaking. I laughed. "I have no interest in any kind of partnership. My brother and I built a sports card website without any help from anyone in this room. I don't give a (expletive) about anybody in this room."

He was stunned. How could some wannabe blogger tell him that? Isn't that a sports card webmasters dream to have a Topps employee approach you, with hands shaking, asking for your help? He turned his back to walk away several times, as I kept telling him I had no desire for any kind of "deal". Yet he kept turning around to try and soften me up. Sapir wanted to provide me with things like, Topps checklists and information to put on my website. I couldn't figure out what was in it for me, since I'd spent the last few years putting up that crap without any kind of help from him (not to mention I've never been cut a check that says Topps on it). A few months prior he offered me a similar "deal". The only caveat being, and this is his quote: "If I ever see you say anything negative about this company (Topps), especially on Twitter, I'll cut you off for good."

Needless to say, I never took any kind of "deal" from Sapir and Topps. Partnerships are not my game. If you own a website, and someone wants to partner with you, run away as fast as you can unless they are holding a fist full of cash. Sapir left Topps just weeks after the 2013 Vegas Summit. Today he spends his time on Twitter doing more ranting and raving than I do. A lot of his tweets center around how weak a business the sports card industry is today. Something that has been painfully obvious for many years now. It's a shame while he was at Topps he never did anything about it.


Why did I write this even if I can't go and am going to watch baseball?

I care about the sports card industry because I've spent my entire life involved in the business in someway. When I was in 7th grade I got to work at a card shop every weekend. That was freaking sweet. My friends at school couldn't believe it. When Kobe Bryant scored 81 points in a game in 2006, I had cases of 1996/97 Finest Basketball, featuring his rookie card, stacked to the ceiling. I made so much money that day on eBay. My brother and I went flat broke running a sports store from 2006-2008. After a rough day at the store, where I'd be there and literally sell nothing, I would walk home with tears in my eyes. You can't cry if you don't care.

Running a brick and mortar store isn't my game. Twitter isn't my game. Being soft, in a stone dead dying industry, just to collect a check isn't my game. Those interested in the 2014 Las Vegas Sports Card Industry Summit should still go if they want to. It wouldn't surprise me though, if in the future, there are more choices when it comes to conferences like the one in Vegas. If the current Summit continues to be more selective with who can attend, look for someone who has more smarts about the industry than Isaacson to host their own. I would certainly be willing to provide help, but it's not like anyone with intelligence would need my assistance. Someone told me Isaacson made $50,000 organizing the Summit one year. Sounds like a decent business model. Sounds like less work than group breaking. Give it a shot if you feel up to it. Maybe those last few sentences were why I wrote this....

I get the sense that people like Isaacson think at some point I'll go away and everyone can just keep collecting a check in peace. Hey guys! I've been at this since I was in 2nd grade. I'm not going anywhere. The industry keeps shrinking it seems each year, but I'll stick around. I'll just keep doing my thing. Maybe I'll have an ace up my sleeve. If I do, I certainly won't have to ask for anyone's help.




Ryan Tedards


1. You Down With MDP?
Talking to Topps employees you often hear the phrase "internal red tape". It speaks to the tight budget control the private equity ownership deploys at Topps. Madison Dearborn Partners and other private equity firms attempt to squeeze profits out of a business and then sell it later on. That's not malicious, or a bad business strategy. It's what they do.

Think sports card message boards are full of angry old men? Visit a Yahoo Finance forum and it will make card collectors look like Kum-Ba-Yah nation. Business is a cut throat thing. Employees are merely "head count". When a Dearborn big wig is ripping a drive on the famous Pebble Beach golf course, the last thing on his mind are the cards you got out of your box of 2013 Five Star Baseball.

2. Helpless Employees
Topps isn't a place to go work if you want to take creative control of a product line. Some employees have mentioned a "good old boys club" exists at the New York company.  It appears even the ones with some decision making power, well, that power is limited. Working at Topps is far from a dream job. Most rarely rub elbows with famous stars. Topps doesn't have a huge inventory to dip into to cure backlogged redemptions. Employees can't spend money at will to get cards printed and signed by the players collectors are waiting on. When you speak to Topps employees, the conversation isn't about how they are working on making the best set of cards. The conversation is usually about how their hands are tied.

3. Made To Order Products
Topps says that their products are made to order.  Maybe the hobby products. Just those right? Target and WalMart don't pre-order Allen & Ginter retail six months out. Get out of here with that. "Made to order" means Topps only makes what the wholesale distributors purchase way in advance. That is why you see previews of Topps sets that don't come out for months. Topps will claim their made to order philosophy also impacts redemption cards. If they don't know how many boxes they will make until orders come in, Topps says this delays the acquisition of autographs.  

It also speaks to a larger issue. You, the collector, are not Topps' customer. The wholesale distributor is who Topps cares about most. Topps sells the product to the distributor, then they move onto the next product in the cycle. Your redemption cards or customer service issues are a secondary concern.

4. The Brand has Value
One thing Topps has going for it over it's competitors is brand equity. Topps has sets that collectors are familiar with. Finest, Topps Chrome, Allen & Ginter, Bowman, Triple Threads, Flagship brands. By contrast, competitor Panini, has much weaker brands. Many of Panini's best brands were bought from the failing Donruss company.  I often try to engage casual or non-collectors into conversations about cards. Most are familiar with some of the brands in the Topps stable even if they don't collect anymore. Some still remember the good old days of Upper Deck. Familiarity with Panini America brands? Yeah right. 

The MLB typically likes to deal with American companies. Topps and the MLB have had a long history. Don't look for anyone besides Topps to make licensed baseball cards anytime soon, even after their current deal runs out.

5. Why I Bash On Topps
Some of their products are nice and I enjoy buying single cards throughout the year. Most of the good ones I buy are Topps. Panini cards don't look as nice. A card with a sticker autograph? C'Mon. I don't have any kind of emotional attachment to Topps. I was a lucky one, when I was in 7th grade I got hired to work at a card shop. I quickly became more interested in the business of cards, and not the cards themselves. Over the years I've sold cases of Topps products on eBay, opened (and closed) my own sports card store, and currently promote Topps products on various card websites.

Topps as a company is in a tough spot. It's almost like rooting for a sports team that has bad ownership. You don't really know what to do. Many people rely on Topps products to earn a living. I know what it is like to struggle running a sports card business. The margin is slim, the help is none, and the hours can be long. Failing at my sports card store during 2006-2008 was one of the worst times of my life. I worry some are in the same spot I was in. That is probably one reason why, at times, I speak out in a negative way about Topps.

In combination with my brother Colin, we help sell current Topps products in a way. The sports card websites we work on have gotten several million views over the years. Over a half million people will visit Sports Card Radio during the year, in most part to find out information on sets. It was all by accident. After we went broke running a card store in 2008, Colin started a sports card podcast on a whim. Collectors started to email my brother about his show. They were so positive and urged him to keep going.

You can make decent money if you have a website getting thousands of visitors each day. Probably a little more than you think, even a site about baseball cards. I can pay my bills. I couldn't do that running a card store. If those collectors in the early days didn't email my brother and encourage him to keep working on the shows and the site, I'd probably be hiring nurses for a living.

In late 2012 we started to get several emails a week about customer service issues at Topps. Many collectors were having problems with old redemptions they were waiting on.

Colin and I can be overtly negative toward Topps. What? Are we going to continue promoting Topps sets without saying anything? C'Mon. It doesn't sit well with us to make money on the backs of collectors, then turn our backs when they are having issues. If it wasn't for card collectors I'd be getting up at 7 a.m. to go work somewhere tomorrow. If they are having problems with Topps, then I am willing to complain and be a class A jerk. That's something I don't see changing.

6. What Can You Do?
Do you stop buying their products? I don't think you have to go that far. Some of their problems may not impact you and your collecting style. If you are waiting on a Topps redemption card that is over 15 weeks old, I would highly suggest opening a case with the Better Business Bureau.

Keep in mind that Topps is in the business to make money. That is their utmost concern. They have been able to limit licensing in key sports to unlock a margin to operate. Current management at Topps have no concern about your collection or if you get value from buying a box.

Collectors come at this hobby from so many different angles. Some like single cards, some like new stuff, some like old stuff, some buy packs, some buy boxes, some do group breaks, some don't buy online. It's easy to feel burned when buying cards. They can be expensive and the values can drop off the table quick.  Hopefully you can find niches within the hobby that peak your interest. I don't have a magic wand to wave. If you've been collecting cards for a long time, there is probably something still in it for you to explore.




My name is Ryan. Email me if you are waiting on a redemption card from Topps. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.