My cell phone rang a bit later than normal Wednesday night, just after 10:20. It was CNBC sports business guru Darren Rovell on the line. I’ve come to know this about Rovell in the six-plus years since I first met him: When he calls, you pick up – no matter what time it is.
This time, as always, Rovell was full of gold.
He was checking to see if I’d heard the news that Topps, according to a just-posted story on the New York Times website, had been granted an exclusive license from Major League Baseball effective beginning with the 2010 season.
I told him I hadn’t, and began immediately scrambling to put something together for our own website and blog, all the while discussing with Rovell what it all means in the grand scheme of things.
My first reaction was that Upper Deck’s announcement in early July that it had secured an extension from the MLBPA for next season was a mighty effective smokescreen that led quite a few folks – myself included – to believe that 2010 would be no different than 2009 in the baseball card category.
(Despite repeated efforts to obtain information on the state of baseball license renewals, we never were able to get much from the quieter-than-normal principals.)
My second reaction was that the announcement, at least on the surface, seems to put Upper Deck in a pretty precarious situation without licenses from MLB and the NBA.
I also thought about how three sports out of the four biggies now have exclusive trading card agreements with different companies and how, ultimately, the lack of competition almost always leads to fewer good choices for the collector – a point not lost on most of the collectors leaving comments to last night’s post on Beckett.com.
Rovell and I talked for a good 15 minutes, and much of that time was spent pondering whether kids – that largely lost demographic that many folks in this industry are trying desperately to reconnect with – will ever return to the hobby in meaningful numbers.
Personally, I don’t think they will. But I also don’t think that’s the end of the world, either.
Look, I love cards and I do my part to make sure that the kids in my life – my two sons, my nephews and nieces, the kids on the sports teams I help coach, the kids in my Sunday school class and the kids in my neighborhood – love cards, too. Some do, and that’s great. But for many of them, cards just don’t stack up, cool wise, to the myriad other options available these days, from iPhones to videogames and everything in between.
But you know who almost always thinks the cards I try to introduce are the cat’s pajamas? The parents; those thirty- and forty-somethings responsible for handing out the discretionary income and the ones who seem to be doing much of the collecting these days anyway.
That’s why I think the real growth opportunity in sports cards is the adult sports fan. That’s who really needs to hear the message about how cool sports cards are. They’re the ones who can do something about it, starting with opening their wallets and sharing their enthusiasm with their kids, who are sure to grow up to be adult sports fans themselves.
There are worse marketing strategies than embracing the fact that our core demographic is a 25-to-54-year-old male.
So, this morning, what does Topps’ exclusive in particular – and, in general, Panini’s in basketball and Upper Deck’s in hockey – mean in the grand scheme of things? That remains to be seen.
What we know for sure is that the trading card landscape is changing dramatically right in front of our eyes. That change is sure to continue in the coming weeks and months.
All we can do is stay prepared, remain open-minded and maintain a willing ear. After all, I get the feeling more late-night phone calls are coming.
— Tracy Hackler