Down Arrows on Topps Since 2007
When Madison Dearborn Partners purchased Topps in 2007 for $385 million it was seen as a solid deal for the private equity firm. That was before the financial collapse of 2008.  Some financial experts suggest Topps is apart of a larger fund that has performed poorly for Dearborn.  It's believed the private equity firm has made severe cuts to Topps' operating costs in an attempt to unlock what value the company has.

Up Arrows on COMC
One misconception about COMC, the online card consignment service, is that the revenue the company makes is tied solely to selling as many cards as possible.  Wrong. I'd pay several thousand a month for access to their database of photos and price information. Why? I could make several thousand more using the data.  Believe it or not, providing sports card information like pricing, checklists, photos, can be a lucrative venture.  But the database of pricing and photos could be used by big pocket online retailers.  Someone like Amazon, eBay, or Beckett Marketplace sellers would love access to perfect front and back scans of millions of trading cards.  I see cha-ching in the future.

A Flawless Peach
Panini Flawless Basketball, which is pre-selling for around $1,400 a box on the retail level, is scheduled to release in early October. It's a very limited product that might be hard to get even at the wholesale level. Rumors popped up that a certain sports card wholesale distributor got more supply of Flawless then rival distributors.  The reason being, the distributor getting the supply had conceptually come up with the idea for the set. Sounds a bit bizarre. Panini and the distributor in question both deny the rumor. A competing distributor also dismissed the idea saying, "I've never heard of anything like that."

College Cards
The push to pay college athletes is at an all time high. It feels like a majority of people believe it's okay to pay athletes competing in college sports.  While it may never happen, or be many years away, the ramifications of paying college athletes could spill over to trading cards. Creating cards of current college stars seems like a turn-key way for the NCAA to finance payments to players. If someone like Topps or Panini could create a card of a player like Johnny Manziel while still playing at Texas A&M..... well, I can see the dollar signs.

Former Upper Deck Employees Still Strong
There is a community of former Upper Deck employees who still keep in touch and remember the old days. This included a recent outing to a San Diego Padres Game. Many former Upper Deck employees have very fond memories of the glory days at the company. It's doubtful that Upper Deck will ever be able to rekindle the magic that made their cards so popular. They've lost so many talented employees and business deals that the mountain might just be too high to climb.

Upper Deck Employee Outing

 
Dipping in Chrome
Topps released Topps Chrome & Bowman Chrome Baseball within two days of each other in late September. It's a questionable move because the sets have a similar following and price point. One wholesale distributor said someone at Topps "messed up and will pay for it." Another distributor said "It's tough, but the content is different."  The content being the Bowman Chrome set features mostly cards of minor league prospects. Prospect cards can not be inserted into the Topps Chrome set. I'm setting the over/under of the employee's age at Topps who made the mistake at 29.5.
 
Sign of the Times

The L.A. Times had a nice article about a semi-struggling card shop that has break nights at his store in Spokane Valley, Washington.  It hit a little close to home as I was once a struggling card shop owner. Several things struck me about the article. It describes a customer buying a box of cards and getting a Robert Griffin III autograph/jersey card. The box cost $140. There was excitement in the shop because it was thought the customer did well on his gamble. But after going through the article the customer ended up selling the hits from the box for $105. The Griffin III he supposedly sold for $90, a Ronnie Hillman $10, and a Matt Kalil $5.  Spending $140 to get $105 back won't keep customers coming back for more. Even if he kept the cards for his collection, $140 is a fair amount of money for most people in the U.S.  How many people can blow off $140 every other week on sports cards?

One of the reader comments to the article summed what what could become of the sports card industry if things remain bleak: "Reminds me of Beanie Babies."

 
Ryan can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or @SportsCardNews

UPDATE - MAY/JUNE 2014

Collectors started to receive their Gold Baseballs in late May - early June 2014. The first one listed for sale on eBay was priced at $5,000 or best offer.

2012 Topps Gold Baseball Mays/Aaron/Griffey
   

Letter of Authenticity

THE TOPPS COMPANY, INC.

This letter certifies that this MLB Baseball was Autographed by Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, and Ken Griffey Jr,.

An official representative of The Topps Company, Inc. witnessed the signing of this MLB Baseball.

This letter - with the below signature and holographic sticker - certifies the authenticity of Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, and Ken Griffey Jr. signatures on this MLB Baseball.

This letter coincides with the Serial Number on the ball:

The Topps Company, Inc.

2012 Topps Letter of Authenticity

 

The Hype - January 2012

When the calendar rolls around to February each year, baseball fans can start to sniff spring training. It might be cold outside, but thoughts of sunshine, green grass and heading out to the ballpark are shared by many. Topps will wet the baseball appetite by releasing it's first baseball card product of the new year around this time. It's one of the best days of the year for me because it seems like hobby forums and sports card tweeters come to life to give an opinion on the new set.

In 2012, Topps was very active in promoting the Series 1 set that released on February 1st. There were special release day Gold Rush Rip Parties at select hobby stores. The hobby stores who did the Rip Parties got a special "Gold Rush Kit" with pins, stickers, balloons and other items. 10 of the hobby store Gold Rush Kits had a special Gold Rush Ticket that was to be redeemed for a 24K gold infused baseball autographed by Ken Griffey Jr., Willie Mays and Hank Aaron. In addition, inside hobby packs of 2012 Series 1 were 10 randomly inserted Gold Tickets for the same ball.


The Gold Ticket - February 2012

Hobby stores and collectors began finding the Gold Tickets. Some hobby stores gave the redemption ticket away to customers. Many Gold Tickets were listed on eBay with the prices ranging from $1,750-$3,395. It's got to be exiting pulling a redemption like this. In fact, on the back of the card, Topps suggests the lucky person should "Tweet Topps and include a picture of yourself with the front of your winning ticket".

The tweeting wasn't really needed to get the ball. All the person with the Gold Ticket had to do was:
Follow detailed instructions on ticket back, send ticket in, wait patiently for 8-12 weeks and your prize ball will arrive! 
2012 Topps Series 1 Gold Ticket 
Photo: Beckett Article  

When 8-12 Weeks turns into 52 Weeks - January 2013

As 2012 rolled on Topps released many more baseball products and if you weren't one of those with the lucky Gold Ticket, you could probably care less about the ball. The people waiting for the Gold Ticket redemption though, started to wonder what was going on.  They waited the 8-12 weeks but no ball showed up. When the clock struck 2013 many were going on a full year waiting for the Griffey Jr/Mays/Aaron ball.  Topps isn't the easiest company to get a hold of in regards to customer service. I don't think it's a reach to say that. While it is possible to get someone on the phone during east coast business hours, the wait time can be long and many people don't have time to call as they are more than likely working themselves. Emailing Topps customer support can be very spotty at best. Topps has various social media accounts like Twitter and Facebook, but in general, the employees in charge of running those accounts are not involved in the customer service side of the business. While these employees can be of assistance at times, it could take many tweets and Facebook messages to get a response.

In January 2013, on sports card forum Freedom Cardboard a collector recounted a story he heard from a hobby shop owner who had a Gold Ticket and also knew of another customer who had two Gold Tickets. While it's unclear which person got fed up with waiting for the ball to get signed, apparently as a replacement for the ball, Topps sent the Gold Ticket holder "cases" of 2012 Topps Archives Baseball. Archives is a mid-low end product that appeals to collectors who like the card designs from the 1970's and 1980's. Many posters on the Freedom Cardboard forum, a well respected community of collectors, didn't seem to think that was a fair replacement for the Griffey Jr/Mays/Aaron ball.

On January 17, 2013 a collector who was waiting on the ball emailed me about his frustration. Despite numerous attempts to contact Topps customer support, through phone calls and the internet, the collector's questions were falling on deaf ears. At one point the collector even mailed a letter to the Topps office in hopes of a response only to be let down once again. On the back of the Griffey Jr/Mays/Aaron ball Gold Ticket it says to: "Smile, celebrate, make some noise!!" This collector wasn't smiling as he was going on 50 weeks waiting for the ball to appear on his doorstep. 
  
Topps Has Balls - February 2013

Through some prodding of fellow collectors, and maybe a little jab from myself, a (now former) employee of Topps uncovered a picture of the ball. It had been freshly signed by Willie Mays and the hopes of Griffey Jr and Hank Aaron signatures awaited.
2012 Topps Series 1 Gold Ball Willie Mays 
  
Hank & Kenny out to Lunch.... Kinda - May 2013

I continued to correspond with the collector who emailed me from January. In hopes of getting some news on the ball I put in a call to Topps to see what was going on. Indeed the balls had been signed by Mays but Griffey Jr and Aaron had yet to sign them. There are only a few decision makers at Topps and generally speaking they aren't the ones picking up the phone. It's best to treat the few Topps customer service reps they have with respect as they can give you some information on your redemption or issue.

One interesting thing of note is that Hank Aaron, Ken Griffey Jr and Willie Mays have "live" autographs available on the market that were redemptions in the original product in 2012. Meaning some redemptions for those three players have been fulfilled. Unfortunately Topps has not been able to get all three to sign the 2012 Topps "Gold Ticket" 24K Baseball. Many collectors experience this frustration with other cards and players. At times collectors can be waiting for a redemption, but the athlete has signed cards that are going into new products. Topps doesn't fulfill it's past obligations before cranking out new sets. 

Take the Summer Off - June - August 2013

Topps had a staffing shakeup in the summer of 2013 that saw several employees leave the company. On the customer service side, the impact appeared massive. Topps began telling customers that redemptions would take an extra 5-6 weeks to be fulfilled because of the staffing need. Many collectors were already waiting over a year for some redemptions so the 5-6 week message was perplexing. Communication coming out of Topps is poor. While they have a strong following of people on some social media sites, they generally use those for promotional purposes only. Getting nuts & bolts information out of Topps can be like trying to crack a safe. If you have an issue with Topps it can be difficult to know what to do. The customer service employees only have limited information on items waiting to be redeemed. The customer service employees can't get Hank and Griffey to sign the ball. There are employees at Topps who do have that obligation and job title to acquire autographs. Mays, Griffey and Aaron have signed cards for Topps since 2012. There might be a somewhat good reason why the ball hasn't been signed but Topps has not communicated with it's customers what that reason might be. 

Around this time period Topps sent out, what they said were 10,000 "replacement autographs" to customers waiting for redemption cards. Doc Gooden, Gary Carter and other mid-tier athlete sticker autograph cards were sent out in mass. Some collectors got the better end of the deal, happy to get something for a card they were waiting on.  Others were disappointed and wanted the item they were originally promised. Collectors did not have a choice to get their cards redeemed for the replacement autographs. Topps just sent out the replacement cards without first contacting the customer.

Not every collector waiting for a redemption card got one of these replacement autographs. Thousands of collectors are still waiting for cards to be redeemed by Topps, including those waiting for the Griffey Jr/Mays/Aaron ball.

2013 Topps Gary Carter Replacement

We Have No Balls - September 2013

I put in another fresh call to Topps in early September to see if there was any update on the 24K ball. Perhaps Aaron or Griffey had signed it and there would be good news to share with the collector who had been emailing me. Unfortunately there was no news on the ball. In a few months it will be 2 years since many collectors got the Gold Ticket.  It's got to be incredibly frustrating waiting for Topps to come through on their end. What a shame that in nearly 2 years only Willie Mays has signed the ball.

It doesn't give collectors or those involved in the industry a very good feeling about the employee talent level at Topps. And I'm not talking about the people who pick up the phone. They do their job as well as they can. It's the upper level management and decision makers at Topps who don't empower their lower level employees to help customers. The decision makers at Topps also don't have a grasp of the costly nature of redemption cards. Having a "backlog" of redemptions (liabilities) is not a good way to run a business. That is why Topps sent out the 10,000 replacement redemption cards. They knew it was dumb on many levels to have those cards waiting to be redeemed. It was probably more of a business move than a customer service gesture. Funny thing is, 2013 Topps products are filled with redemption cards. The problem hasn't been fixed or solved for the end customer. In another couple years they may have to do the same thing and issue a bunch of other replacement cards if decision makers continue their laziness. I wouldn't advise anyone to buy a Topps redemption card. They'll just send you whatever they see fit in a couple years. 
   

Ryan - @SportsCardNews
 
 
   

I've spent the last few weeks watching a multitude of "group breakers" on Vaughn Live hawk their items for sale.  The group breakers are performing the break, live, on the free streaming website. There is a chat box so that everyone watching can comment or bargain with the breaker. On any given night, there can be upwards of 25 different group breakers on Vaughn Live all essentially doing the same thing. Most breakers can get between 5-50 people watching their break at any given time.

1) Most don't handle valuable cards properly

For one, these guys need to learn how to handle the cards themselves. Stop getting your fingerprints all over the cards! Do some of you "group breakers" out there realize that when you send a card in to get graded if your greasy fingerprint is on the card that it impacts the final score? The base cards you can grease up with your fingerprints, but hold valuable cards on their edges and do not touch the surface.

2) Back Ally Breaks

Most of these breaks are going down in some cheap looking 1 or 2 bedroom apartment. Guys, here is a tip, turn the camera away from you when you look like a scrub. I live in one of the most dangerous cities in the United States and some of these group breakers could live in my hometown with how they act, dress, and communicate with their customers. Many will curse, many will mouth off to people in the chat room, some will even brag about how much money they just made. In addition, there is usually some bad 1990's "FAKE Pearl Jam" rock playing way too loud in the background.  If they actually listened to Pearl Jam I'd have more respect for them. But listening to bands imitate Eddie Vedder and crew is painful.

One person in the industry called these group breakers innovative. I doubt he has ever spent a few weeks watching these guys try and break cards on Vaughn Live.  Setting up a $20 webcam and begging the 12 people "in a room" to buy into a break is far from innovative.

3) Some are conducting illegal raffles

Some "breakers" on Vaughn Live will conduct illegal raffles where they use random.org to select the winner of their raffles. One breaker gets pictures of cards on his cell phone from someone who wants to "raffle" a card. The breaker will then conduct a raffle for the card...... even though he doesn't even have the card in his possession. Typically they sell 10 spots in the raffle for $5-20 depending on the value of the card. Once 10 people pay, the breaker conducts the raffle on random.org. One person wins, the rest are left with nothing. Conducting this type of business is illegal in every state in the United States (even if you the breaker are not making any money). I challenge any breaker to prove selling cards in this manner is legal.

There are private Facebook groups called names like "Jam & Jelly" where they will do these raffles in a more private setting. I really don't have a problem at all with gambling. I wish that online poker was legal and regulated. I like to bet on sports when in Las Vegas. But if you choose to do illegal, non regulated forms of gambling, do it in private. Idiots.

4) Many aren't breaking cards, they are trying to fill spots

It's amazing how much work goes into filling a break for some Vaughn Live group breakers. They will spend sometimes hours sitting in front of the camera trying to fill spots in their break. I've spoken (using unprofessional curse words) about how hard it is to scale a group breaking business. It takes time opening the product live on camera, it takes time sorting the cards, it takes time shipping the bubble mailers. To make a lot of money you'd have to break almost 7 days a week. For some, it takes days or even weeks of promoting, tweeting, and being live on camera to try and fill a break. You can't really go to Vaughn Live to watch cards being opened, but you can go there to watch people try and sell spots in a break.

5) Drama

One night, a breaker got his PayPal account shut down. He was running illegal raffles and PayPal froze his account. The kicker was quite a few of his customers also got their PayPal account frozen too. To show you how dumb these breakers are who run the illegal raffles, they will use PayPal to receive payments for the raffles. Instead of paying the PayPal transaction fee, they ask their customers to send payments via "Gift" which charges no fee on PayPal. But, they then make each person send a $0.01 PayPal payment via the normal "Goods" option which does charge a fee. This is so they get the shipping information for the buyer if they win the raffle. It also allows the buyer and breaker to be covered under the PayPal buyer protection policy.

If you know anything about PayPal, they have a filter where they can see all the $0.01 transactions processing through their database. People who work at PayPal know that there is very little reason to send someone $0.01.  More often than not, if you send someone $0.01 on PayPal you are doing something shady to try and skirt the fees PayPal charges. PayPal could probably care less that they are running illegal raffles for worthless sports cards. PayPal cares when you are trying to take money out of their pocket. Pretty simple. Dummies.

On another occasion, a breaker had the feed on his Vaughn Live glitch just as he was showing the random.org results for who won his raffle. The chat box lit up that something was amiss. The look on the breakers face was priceless. He had no idea what to do. Relying on a free streaming service like Vaughn Live will cause these problems. The video quality sucks. The webcams some of these guys use suck. They typically don't have a backup camera going in case a problem arises. Clowns.

6) Breaking cards on camera is not innovative

If it was so innovative why does a new breaker pop up everyday? They all essentially do the same thing. Anyone can buy a webcam. Anyone can sign up for the free Vaughn Live. Anyone can buy from a distributor with the proper tax I.D. number. Some of these guys look like they just got off the graveyard shift at the lumber yard. These aren't "tech" guys. Many can barely work their webcam properly to show the results on random.org or the cards themselves. Many breakers only use Vaughn Live. They have no physical website. They have nothing proprietary. Zero. Nothing. They bought a webcam. They bought a case. Then they started to hawk spots on Vaughn Live. That isn't a great business model. That's a business model any lumber yard worker could copy.

7) Big ego's

I get the impression some of these guys think they are "celebrities" of sorts. The breakers who get 50 people in their room usually have the camera turned toward them so you can see their face (and usually their scrubby apartment). I've seen breakers rap to music on camera. I've seen breakers act like they are on their phone, but they have their eyes glued to the chat box to see what the people in their "room" are saying about them. Some breakers will make cocky and snarly remarks to people in the chat box. One breaker had his wife come in, look down disgusted at the cards on the table, and asked the breaker when they were going to lunch.

I've personally been around some of these guys at events like the Las Vegas Industry Summit and the National Sports Collectors Convention. Many don't realize that the sports card industry is a weak business. Distributors and manufactures will fluff and blow you for buying product from them. It doesn't make you a celebrity.

8) Legit vs. Shady

Some group breakers have a cordial relationship with other breakers. They will buy into each-others breaks or (illegal) raffles. But you can tell there is a hierarchy of sorts in terms of group breakers. Many of the breakers who have physical websites, or have been doing breaks for a long time, seem to run things legit and honest. Only a handful of group breakers on Vaughn Live conduct illegal raffles. I get the feeling that the group breakers who do try and run a legit business, and stay away from the (illegal) raffles, have a negative attitude toward the shady breakers. The shady breakers take business away from the ones who do things legit. I'm actually stunned that group breakers who do run a legit business don't take a harder stance with these shady ones. The competition in the group breaking category is only going to increase if the distributors and manufactures don't limit who can buy this stuff at the wholesale level. If I ran a legit group breaking business I would try and expose the shady characters. It's not personal. It's business.

9) Leaving Money on the Table

These guys could make more money. In the last year I've made $400.00 in ad revenue on YouTube by posting a few videos. $400.00 is pennies. I know that. But these group breakers are cranking out videos each day, hour by hour. They could easily make several thousand a year by uploading their videos to YouTube. When has Vaughn Live cut any of you group breakers a check? Google will cut you a check. What some of these "innovative" group breakers probably don't know is that they will need to properly title, tag, and write good descriptions on their YouTube videos to make good money. It will also help to link to your videos on a physical website. Many of these breakers don't even have a website so the prospects of them making an extra grand or two on YouTube is probably hopeless.

Why don't they sell other things besides spots or (illegal) raffle items? I guess some do. If I had a group breaking site I'd have a bunch of other crap for sale too. Supplies, individual packs, full boxes, full cases, I'd start to build inventory. I'd create an online store. I'd run affiliate ads to eBay, Amazon and anyone else who wanted to cut me a check by just putting a link. These breakers have a base of customers. They have people who trust them. Take more of your customers money. And do it before there are 100 breakers doing the exact same thing you are doing on Vaughn Live.

10) I'd buy into some breakers breaks

There are some group breakers who are running a good business. They treat their customers good. They have backup cameras in case something goes wrong. They have real websites. Quite honestly, some of them are good guys. People I would trust not only with a break, but in life. It's the scummy shady guys on Vaughn Live that hang a dark cloud over the group breaking industry. The distributors and manufactures don't care if some of the breakers who buy from them are scum bags. Most distributors make most of their money selling Magic the Gathering, other gaming cards and board games. They could care less if some scum bag on Vaughn Live wants to illegally raffle off some spots in a group break. Until there is some cleanup and some of the shady group breakers get wiped out of the business, group breaking will be looked down upon by many people in the industry.

 
   
   
   
Donald E Stephens Convention Center

Day #1 At The NSCC
In Rosemont, IL

Wednesday July 31, 2013

2013 Show Information - Tips - Wrapper Redemption Info + More

NSCC Location9301 Bryn Mawr Ave, Rosemont, IL 60018
Donald E Stephens Convention Center  - Google Map

According to the NSCC Official Website - The Wednesday Show Hours Are 4pm - 8pm Local Time

Letter A Icon Wednesday July 31st Autograph Signers
Neal Anderson. - 4:30pm
Dwight Gooden - 4:30pm
Bob Beamon - 5:00pm
Dick Fosbury - 5:00pm
Milt Pappas * - 5:30pm
Mel Renfro * - 5:45pm
Luis Aparicio - 6:30pm

* = VIP Pass Required
 
*** PLEASE Confirm With Event Promoter Times/Availability On Signing Day
Camera IconPhotographs  
Sports Card Radio
Ryan Tedards - Sports Card Radio 2013 NSCC Photo Album
 
2013 NSCC Show Entrance
Blog Icon Day #1 Blogs From NSCC  
Rich Klein’s Ramblings: What I’ll Be Doing at the NSCC
July 30, 2013 - Sports Collectors Daily
 
Everything You Need To Know About Steiner Sports
July 30, 2013 - All About Cards
 
NSCC Notebook: Preview
July 30, 2013 - Beckett
 
Panini America Events Preview
July 29, 2013 - Panini America Blog
 
34th National Preview
July 29, 2013 - Comcast Sports Net
 
National Notes
July 29, 2013 - Sports Collectors Daily
 
Everything You Need To Know About Panini
July 29, 2013 - All About Cards
 
Everything You Need To Know About Topps
July 22, 2013 - All About Cards
 
Tips For Attending The National
Ryan Tedards - Sports Card Radio
 
TV Icon Day #1 Videos From NSCC  
2013 Bowman Platinum Box Break
July 31, 2013 - Beckett
 
2013 Topps Mini Box Break
July 31, 2013 - Beckett
 
Set Up Day At The National
July 30, 2013 - Sports Card Radio
 
Upper Deck Setting Up At The National
July 29, 2013 - Sports Card Radio
 
Microphone IconAudio From NSCC  
NSCC National Preview w/@SportsCardNews
July 30, 2013 - Sports Card Live
 
   
2012 NSCC Highlights 
Wrapper Redemption/VIP Sets
Panini America - Upper Deck - Topps
Topps Panel Discussion Notes
Rayn Tedards - Sports Card Radio
   
Day #1 Link Portal
August 1, 2012 - Sports Card Radio
Day #3 Link Portal
August 3, 2012 - Sports Card Radio
   
Day #2 Link Portal
August 2, 2012 - Sports Card Radio
Day #4 Link Portal
August 4, 2012 - Sports Card Radio

 

More Links, Photos, & Videos Will Be Posted Once Show Begins! HAVE FUN!!