eTopps Redux - Soft Hobby Media - Sports Card Raffles

   
Sell Special Cards on COMC
Topps lost money on the now defunct eTopps. I actually thought it was a good idea at the time, but the expenses behind running an operation like that has got to be pricey. One solution to some of the costs is if Topps just had to print the cards and let someone else handle the shipping and secondary market.

It just so happens a company exists that could do all those things for Topps or any other card company. COMC.  Produce some special cards, create a company account on COMC and sell the cards. Once someone buys one of the cards, COMC then handles the rest. It beats the card company setting up their own eBay account (like Topps Vault) because they would then have to handle all the shipping, buyer questions, returns, etc.
COMC eTopps Card 
I guess it's not as easy as it would seem. COMC typically handles cards on consignment from collectors and dealers. Card companies creating cards and essentially "setting their own price" might rub some the wrong way. I can see that argument. But I'm also on the side that wonders why most new cards have to come out of a pack. Topps essentially set their own price on eTopps cards. Panini sold Orange Pylon Prizm Parallels on their own site via auction, but didn't just start the cards at $0.99 cents. You can see here what those Prizm Pylon cards sold for.

Another negative factor besides potential collector angst is backlash from the almighty wholesale distributors. These distributors faithfully buy these card companies products, even the crappy ones. Without the distribution network, card companies would become much more expensive to operate. In a word, it's called inventory. Topps might be able to scratch their back at the same time. Create a small set of cards that are serial numbered #/100. Sell half on COMC and use the rest as box toppers, wrapper redemptions, or some other promotion that aides the distributor.

Selling cards like this would get hot player cards on the market a little quicker. When Yasiel Puig got off this summer........... Topps had one card of his on the market. Ouch. It took some time for a set to be released that had his card in it. I hate the over dilution of cards being flooded onto the market as much as the next guy. But one insert card of Puig on the market when he pops is a joke. Topps could make A SMALL PRINT RUN of Puig cards on demand and get them into the market quick. It might even create buzz and hype for the next set to come out that will have more Puig cards.

Cold Call Group Breakers & Card Store Owners
I had a job managing about 50 nurses who I would find in-home health care work. Insurance companies and the Government would pay $28-250 an hour to take care of a patient and I would find a nurse who could hopefully work for $14.00 an hour.  It's a real lucrative business because insurance companies and the Government are willing to pay out the nose. 

One day my boss came and told me to call all 50 of my nurses to "check in" and see how things were going. I wanted to strangle him.  It would take a whole day or more to do that. Reluctantly I put in the calls and it was in fact a great idea. I was able to find out some of my nurses were willing to work more, which meant more money for me. I also found out some of my nurses needed common medical items, like gloves, which meant I could get out of the office and go deliver them to a clients house. Getting out of the office was like found money.

Call On Your Phone
So hey, card companies, give your group breakers and card store owners a call. Don't call them with the hopes of stealing them away from your distributors by signing them up to a direct account. That's the beauty of putting in a call to them. It's not even a direct sales call. You can just get their feel for what the market is for your stuff. Some group breakers have been opening a wide array of product for many years, they can give you insight into what works and what doesn't. And guess what? By reaching out to them I can guarantee some will feel greater loyalty toward your company and order more product. I'd be willing to bet on that. A card company putting in such calls would also be helping their main customer, the wholesale distributor. Group breakers and card store owners might even tell their distributor sales rep, "Oh hey, Joe Blow at Panini called me the other day. Super nice guy we talked a lot about their NFL cards. You know, tell you what, add a box of Prizm to my order."

Card companies will tell you they already do this. Problem is, they only involve the people who, in all honestly, would be buying their product regardless. Examples of this are the Topps Five Star Club, Panini's Hobby Roundtable and Upper Deck Diamond Dealers. I get setting some of your biggest collectors and dealers apart and give them special treatment. No problem with that. But give smaller business owners an opportunity to reach that next level by giving them a vote of confidence. It wouldn't take that much time. Lord knows there are not that many card shops still around. Many group breakers don't have business phone numbers but you can probably easily find their email address.

It's hard running your own small business. Especially when you are buying and re-selling product. To make any money in this industry you have to push heavy volume. That's a lot of work! Card companies should reach out to as many dealers as possible. Make them feel welcome. I don't think it would be that hard.
  
Create Arizona Fall League Sets
I am biased toward the Arizona Fall League. I look forward to going to Scottsdale each year to watch AFL games like a little kid waits for Christmas. The games are sparsely attended despite some great MLB prospects on display. In fact, most of the people who go to the games are after the autographs. Many AFL autograph seekers don't even stay and watch the game. They come early and don't just want one Kris Bryant autograph, they want him to sign all 10 of their cards. Most autograph seekers at the AFL are very well organized, with elaborate binders holding cards, and some have a supply of bats that could stock a little league team. Are some of them going to sell these autographs? Sure. But you'd be surprised how many are just there to keep every autograph they get. Believe me, I've tried to buy autographs from people there (because I know they are real) and they are unwilling to sell even the scrubby players.
Kris Bryant Chicago Cubs
If Topps created Arizona Fall League sets they would sell. People wouldn't want to buy just 1 set, they'd want to buy a ton of them because they are trying to get 15 Byron Buxton autographs. Sets like Topps Heritage Minor League may not appeal to many collectors, but autograph seekers love the base cards because they are perfect for getting autographs on. Plain Jane Bowman cards are also very good for autographs. Topps could easily produce some real simple prospect cards for the Arizona Fall League without hurting the value of their very important Bowman brands.  

There are some logistical problems with creating the sets. The rosters for the AFL gets released toward the end of August, with games starting around October 8-10. It gives Topps a month long window to create cards, but one of the cool things about the AFL is the prospects wear their affiliations Major League Uniform. The players also don a special New Era hat depending what team they are on (Scottsdale Scorpions for example). It's pretty awesome seeing Kris Bryant wear a Cubs uniform and it would be even more awesome on cardboard. One way around this is just create a card similar to Bowman or Topps Heritage Minor League using pictures already available. They wouldn't be as nice, but people would still buy them.

Another factor is that the rosters for the teams can change. Some players get hurt or their organization changes it's mind from August-October and they end up not playing during AFL games. Some pitchers don't get named to a roster until September. Guys get hurt and get replaced. It should be noted that Topps does advertise the Bowman brand at the Arizona Fall League. During each game the PA announcer does a commercial read about Bowman and there is a Bowman banner in some stadiums. Topps sponsored the 2013 Bowman Hitting Challenge, which was a real fun event, hopefully they do that again in future years. I was watching the hitting challenge with a noted sports card researcher, and we found it amazing that you couldn't buy any cards at the games. Seems like it would be an ideal place. There would be some challenges to creating Fall League sets, but I think there would be interest.

You Can't be Sued for Being a Jerk
By and large the hobby "media" is soft. What they do an effective job at is copy and pasting sell sheet information onto their websites.  That's not a knock, it's actually a valuable resource. There are many websites that provide pertinent information for collectors. Very few of them though want to rock the boat.  Look at the state of the sports card industry the last 20 years. Card store owners are going broke by the day. Companies like Panini and Topps churn out so much product that it dilutes the value of cards already on the market. Redemption cards..... that expire....... and sticker autographs fill boxes that cost $150+ each. Yet every set that comes out there are some that will sing it's praises. Sometimes it appears nobody is looking out for the long term health of this industry, only seeking that next quick check. I visit card shops around the U.S. that are going broke, but all I can find on the internet are eBay's most watched cards.  

Some members of the hobby media get free boxes from companies. Which I guess would make it all but impossible for the person getting a free pull on a slot machine to rip into a card company. That's understandable. It's essentially hush money. Websites and blogs do help pump dollars into the hobby community. In reality, sports card sites probably don't get enough credit for that. Companies like Upper Deck, Panini and Topps have a very weak presence on the internet so it serves their interest to have others pump their product without fear of anything bad slipping out.  Negative hobby stories are usually relegated to a forum or kept private.   

Sports TV rights have soared since the 1990's. Apparel makers like Nike and New Era rake in the money producing licensed jerseys, hats, t-shirts and other fan items. The value of sports franchises have skyrocketed the last 20 years. Player salaries have exploded. The sports card market has tanked. That's not good folks. The popularity of sports has risen since the 1990's, but the popularity of sports cards has been crippled. Wake the F up. Something isn't right. The business model behind selling these cards isn't right. It's flawed. Small business owners are going broke trying to sell these cards. Distributors milk group breakers and shop owners for every penny they can. So much crappy product comes out each week. The margin is SUPER SLIM on all this stuff. From Panini Flawless to Topps Series 1, the margin is a joke. The secondary price of 2012-13 Panini Flawless boxes went up after release in part because distributors held back inventory. When a product gets hot distributors squeeze dealers with initial pre-sale allocations and then step on their neck by jacking up the price after release when it's time to re-order.  It's hard to make money buying and re-selling in the card game. "Media members" get free boxes of cards while shop owners can't pay their bills.  Shhhhhhhhhhhhh.

Raffle Sports Cards Using Fantasy Sports
It was kind of funny to see a multitude of online group breakers raffle off items for sale. There are many reasons why running a raffle is illegal, but there are some easy ways around it. One way to essentially raffle off cards is conduct a fantasy sports challenge between the people who pay for a spot. The fantasy game can even be set up to last only one day. Most people think they are good at fantasy sports so I could see interest in it. There are many daily fantasy sports sites that will let you set up one day leagues yourself for free. You could probably even handle the scoring yourself by creating your own daily fantasy salaries or copying them off of one of the popular daily sites. Most daily fantasy sites will let you download their salaries into excel.

One downside is the instantaneous nature of the current random.org raffle system. It's quick and easy to get 10 people to pay and then run a raffle. By running a fantasy sports game, you have to get these people to fill out a lineup and wait for the games to complete. If you do group breaks it takes a lot of time to sort, pack and ship certain products. Running fantasy sports raffles on the side might just add too much work to the equation.
  
 
Ryan T. @SportsCardNews
42 N. Sutter Street
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Stockton, CA 95202