7 questions facing the sports card industry in 2016

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2016

By Ryan Cracknell | Hobby Editor

We heard a lot about time travel and hover boards in 2015. It was, after all, the year when Back to the Future II was set. But the Cubs didn’t win the World Series and our hover boards still have wheels. Predicting the future appears to be as tough as ever.

As we flip our calendars and look to the next 12 months ahead, here are some questions about the hobby that will be answered in 2016.

How will things change now that all four of the major leagues have sports card exclusives?

When Panini takes over exclusive rights to the NFL license in the spring, it will become the last of the major North American sports leagues to go with a single manufacturer. How these exclusives have been approached and received has varied from sport to sport as each manufacturer has their own way of doing things.

Good or bad, exclusives are a part of today’s hobby. It might not always be that way but 2016 will mark the first year in the modern hobby era where that’s the case. Will things be that different as far as the types of products or the collecting base? How will it change the business side of things for hobby shops, breakers, dealers and collectors? Time will tell.

What sorts of innovations will we see?

The hobby is constantly changing. Sometimes we don’t see it so much in the packs and boxes we bust, but the business itself and how we collect does. Look at group breaking over the past few years. And the expansion of repackage products. And several other areas of the industry.

In the past couple of years a lot of the innovations seen on cards themselves have been expansions of previous innovations. One would have to go back to the first memorabilia cards and introduction of super premium products to see a massive shift in the way cards are made. We’ve seen some small trends. Some potentially big innovations have failed to catch on in a big way. Remember video cards?

Will we see any game-changers in 2016 as far as card and product styles go? What would you like to see?

Will NASCAR make a comeback?

It has been a year since Press Pass went out of business. That’s meant a lack of racing cards. The market may not be as big as some of the other sports but that doesn’t mean it needs to be ignored. Will we see new NASCAR cards in 2016? If so, who is going to make them?

Will there be any major changes at any of the card companies?

Just like any industry, there are lots of changes within trading cards every year. In 2015 we saw the number of major/semi-major manufacturers shrink by one (see above). As always — just like other industries — there have been plenty of rumors floating around about one manufacturer buying another, some being in trouble and combinations of the two. Sometimes something comes of those rumors. Other times they die for a while.

Will any manufacturers go under in 2016? Will any merge? Maybe someone new will emerge. Because those sorts of deals are usually done in private, we likely won’t know for certain until they’re done, no matter what the rumors are.

What will the evolution of digital trading cards look like?

Whether you’re a fan or not, digital trading cards have grown in the past couple of years. Topps’ apps like BUNT and Star Wars Card Trader have led to others. Panini has their DUNK app for basketball and Gridiron for football. 2015-16 Upper Deck Tim Horton’s had a digital component to the promotion. Upper Deck has also said they’re working on their own hockey app.

These apps are still young and developing. In the app realm, what’s hot today can quickly shrink and struggle to maintain its dominance. Look at Angry Birds and Farmville. Will digital trading card apps be a fad or are they here to stay? That’s a question that won’t be answered in 2016, but we can wonder what they’ll look like in the months ahead and if any others will join the mix.

Who will be the breakout stars and rookies of 2016?

This time last year, Kris Bryant cards were hot. In the summer, they were hotter. Connor McDavid was the same before the start of the NHL season this past fall. At the NBA draft, a crying young Knicks fan got more attention than Kristaps Porzingas. That kid is smiling and the Knicks rookie is one of the top first-year players this year.

And it’s not always rookies who emerge in the hobby. Stephen Curry has entered the elite in the past few months. Josh Donaldson has gone from a fringe star to MVP.

Every year there are big rookies and new stars who step out from the shadows. Who will they be in 2016?

Will Jason Day and Jordan Spieth finally get some cards?

Jordan Spieth 2015 Sports Illustrated Kids

Jason Day and Jordan Spieth both had big years in 2015. And while they now both have cards courtesy of Sports Illustrated Kids magazine, they’re not quite the same as traditional golf cards. It has been a couple of years since there has been a major golf release. Perhaps we’ll see it in 2016.

What are you looking forward (or not) as far as the hobby in 2016?

Comments? Questions? Contact Ryan Cracknell on Twitter @tradercracks.

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Ryan Cracknell

A collector for much of his life, Ryan focuses primarily on building sets, Montreal Expos and interesting cards. He's also got one of the most comprehensive collections of John Jaha cards in existence (not that there are a lot of them). Got a question, story idea or want to get in touch? You can reach him by email and through Twitter @tradercracks.

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27 comments

  1. Richard 31 December, 2015 at 18:10

    Nascar cards will get made as soon as a deal is made where the card manufacturer can make a profit.
    It may take a while given the fees involved, but I expect that in a world where they can still make WNBA card sets that Nascar can manage to do the same. Granted, they only made 500 of them this year, but still….

    Digital cards can and should die out just like pogs did. You can’t bring a digital card to a game to get signed.
    At least they currently allow you to transfer them to other people, but eventually people will want to go back
    to solid things in the real world again. Digital cards as part of a game of some kind might stay alive longer.

    Kris Bryant cards will drop in price simply because that’s the pattern.
    You have Bryce Harper cards selling at lower levels for the same card type, and that’s just silly.
    For Heaven’s sake, they are the same age and Harper has all the same awards as Kris, plus 2 additional
    AS, a SS, and oh yeah, an MVP award. So either Kris is vastly over price or Bryce is under, take your pick.
    Now if Kris had won them the World Series instead of them being blanked by the Mets …

    • Ryan Cracknell 31 December, 2015 at 19:29

      Like everything else, digital isn’t for everyone. But several people do enjoy it quite a lot. They’re not looking for the same thing as physical and like the draw of other parts. It is very different and that’s the point — to be an alternative. Personally, I find the most enjoyable one to be Star Wars and it has no game attached to it at all. I’m a regular casual user but love the fact that I can trade and build sets instantly.

  2. Tyler Sullivan 31 December, 2015 at 21:51

    First off, I really appreciate how much dedication and time, as well as the amount of content you bring to Beckett, Ryan. Loves your work with Cardboard Connection, and Beckett is better off with your contributions.

    Second,I wish basic inserts would make a comeback. Fleer Retro shows collectors love for these SP/SSP/1-per box/every other or 3rd/etc. box, and inserts with technology and themes. Jambalaya and Kaboom come to mind, Platinum Portraits from the 90’s,Blue Chip Prospects, etc. These were great, and they were better pulls than a boring white/gray jersey card (jumbo or not). Collectors don’t want these cards as noted by any look at eBay, especially the photo shoot jersey cards. It’s a shame card companies just flood the market with these, and then say they have added value by numbering them to 50/25/10/5 whatever. Just because they’re numbered to 100 or less make them rare when there are literally dozens of sets numbered to 25 or less. Plus why aren’t there more Predictor cards? They always gave collectors something to look forward to and follow. The SuperTeam cards, and the Topps MVP parallel/predictor cards were both rare and fun to chase to see if you’d win a prize. These cards are sorely missed, IMO. I just wish the card companies would take collectors suggestions, and the survey results from sources like Beckett as suggestions to what the masses of collectors want, which aren’t more and more super high-priced sets like Eminence and Flawless. I mean how many $400+ boxes can they produce? Just look at Eminence. It’s $600-800 per carx on average, and a check of realized prices on eBay show how bad this product is getting killed. But I feel like PaniniAmerica will continue to kill the market with these, and find the need for a $10,000 per pack/box set, complete with NO MJ/Lebron autos.

  3. David D 1 January, 2016 at 00:37

    I feel that one question must be…Can the industry survive a company that puts out $6000.00 packs of cards to hobbyists… and…. should a company have total control of two major sports in the trading card business.
    As a collector for 54 years, I feel that the answer should ultimately be a resounding no!

  4. JD 1 January, 2016 at 01:28

    Corey Seager is likely to be the overpriced prospect of 2016 in baseball because of his top prospect status and playing in a big market like LA. Football is likely to be whatever 1st round QB is NOT selected by the Browns. Basketball you are probably looking at Skal Labissiere just because of his potential.

  5. DDDD 1 January, 2016 at 03:30

    Panini will run football into the ground like it did with basketball. Will not collect football until it changes. Same boring design on every single set.

  6. Mike Pereira 1 January, 2016 at 06:25

    The Cold War of the hobby world between Panini and Topps as who will market the highest price tag item that delivers grown up tears and wifey fears of regret.

    I would like to thank Panini and Topps for just running the hobby back into the 90s and over producing junk again. It just leaves a shape pain in my ass that just stops me from getting to my wallet to buy any of this junk coming out.

    Sad to see that their are new collectors or just naive collectors that believe when Panini and Topps put a price tag of $200, $400, $600, $1000 that they are getting cards worth that much. The value to price this past year on products was the worst I’ve ever seen in my two decades of collecting and it wasn’t because of the rookie classes. It was due to the overproduction of products, auto, and parallels that made nothing seem special or valuable. Why pay for one high-end card of your favorite player when you can get one maybe cheaper from another high-end product. Someone needs to teach Panini and Topps about supply and demand.

  7. Chris James 1 January, 2016 at 08:59

    Digital cards appeal to a different generation and mindset. Personally, I would love to see an updated version of etopps come back. Instead of IPOs, just regular packs you can “open” in digital form and have them delivered to you if you so choose.

  8. Jonathan W. Iwanski 1 January, 2016 at 09:25

    Exclusivity has never worked for long in business. It does not keep the customers happy. To liken this to reality, imagine if there was only one company that owned all the restaurants, one company that made all your clothes, or one company that owned all the phone networks. Lack of choice would get pretty old really fast. Ma Bell was broken up for a reason. I really like this hobby, and it pains me to see it fighting itself to move downward. Competition drives innovation.

  9. Charlie DiPietro 1 January, 2016 at 11:25

    I’ve been a sports card collector since 1957 and have been on the business side since 1982. Although I think of myself as a creative person, twenty years ago I did not immagine cards would be as amazing as they are today. While I can not predict the future, I am confident the manufacturers will continue to improve their products and give customers more of what they want. Customers speak with their wallet, and that is a language the manufactures understand and to which they respond.

    Competition is good. I wish we had four or more manufacturers for each sport, but the leagues have determined that is not best for financial well-being. Competition will continue in 2016 because each exclusively manufactured league product will be competing for your entertainment dollar. MLB Baseball and NBA Basketball went exclusive in 2009. Their products are amazing with both Topps MLB products and Panini NBA products giving customers quality and diversification in their many products.

    90% of my NFL customers buy both Topps products and Panini products. While ALL OF US will miss Topps NFL products, Panini America has already started working to fill that 2016 NFL void and win the approval of Topps NFL collectors. As it has done with NBA products, I expect great things from Panini America for NFL products in the immediate future.

    While there are many good card shops, internet retailers and group breakers, some are not. Those which are not place doubt in the minds of our customers. While free and open competition is good, unregulated business practices are bad for the customer and product producer. The consumer needs to know whether they buy their hobby products at a brick and mortar shop in Texas or Alaska, group breaker, internet retailer or at the manufacturer’s store, the consumer will receive the same quality service and value for their entertainment dollar.

    I believe 2016 will be the hobby’s best and most entertaining year ever!

  10. Charlie 1 January, 2016 at 19:08

    While I have to agree exclusives have been approached differently from sport to sport, I don’t agree that they’ve been received differently. I’ve never heard a collector or fan say that an exclusive license was a good thing.

    I’ve also got to disagree with Richard on digital cards – I don’t think digital cards will go away. It’s the world we live in. It’s true for books, movies and other things – it makes sense cards would gravitate toward that. Even though I didn’t completely understand it at first, I think they’ll be around.

    I don’t collect digital sports cards, but I did download the Star Wars Topps app. And now I’m semi-addicted. I don’t spend money on it (with one exception), but it’s fun. It’s more like a game to me, though, than actually collecting.

  11. Paul Jones 1 January, 2016 at 23:41

    I can see one company starting to be Monopoly Panini. dont get me wrong but it not fun that there is only one company making football cards and basketball cards. Why cant Panini put some Micheal Jordan cards in there product? Just an idea……

  12. Todd Nelkin 2 January, 2016 at 00:52

    I am hopeful that Topps Leaves football with a greatest hits collection- sorta like the end of a great fireworks show- i cannot believe that there will not be another Topps NFL set- so I would like to see something that puts a bow on a great run- maybe a great Super Bowl moments set? since some of the Super Bowl cards of the 1970’s are kind of strange looking- – one thing is for sure- things are never going to be the same in football cards without that link to the past….

  13. Kerry Orton 4 January, 2016 at 00:10

    One trend I have seen and enjoyed are smaller complete sets in baseball. For those of us who do collect sets (not many left I suppose) it is much more fun and easier to find 100 or 250 cards rather than 600 to 750. Also, I love subset inserts that are usually of the top players and have interesting characteristics; plain photo on paper stock is boring! The industry should continue to offer these and expand on variety of themes rather than color parallels.

  14. Mark 4 January, 2016 at 01:59

    Paul, Panini cannot put MJ cards in their products because he has an exclusive with UD. Exclusivity is horrible for the hobby, Panini losing hockey has spread out UD’s products and limited the variety. I am surprised at how nobody has mentioned the deplorable state of redemptions? When I pull one now, I almost see it as a useless decoy card . Topps Dynasty having redemptions was a shock, oops then again its Topps so I digress. I for one have vowed to stop buying wax, as every single product by the case is a losing proposition and not just by $100 or so, its huge on most. The only person that can hurt the companies is us consumers who stick to not buying.

  15. David D 4 January, 2016 at 02:41

    I have got to respectably disagree with Charlie D. The photography in Panini products is fair at best, compared to Upper Deck and Topps products. With average photography they have “exposed” the hobby to $6000.00 packs of cards with themes( precious metals) that have nothing to do with the sport. Panini wants to control ALL major sports….lets call it what it is! Panini even filters all comments that are made regarding their products…only the FEW positive ones make their website….. and I have spoken to tens of thousands of “collectors” in the last decade- and while many of them were initially high on Panini at first, they have soured with their poor customer service- and overproduction of high dollar products. I DO NOT see the Hobby heading in a positive direction for 2016.
    As a collector of 9.8 MILLION cards, I have already thrown the towel in for 2016 football( Panini controlled) and any other garbage high dollar Target product they shove through the retail outfits. I may only spend about $600.00 per month on my personal collection, but I can promise you with Panini in control it will be considerably less for 2016!

  16. Matthew 4 January, 2016 at 13:13

    I can tell you exactly what the baseball monopoly has meant to me: after an infuriating exchange with the Topps social media rep on Twitter, I resolved to quit buying new baseball card product. When it’s obvious that the monopoly company doesn’t actually care about addressing the concerns of the customer, the customer can either walk away or continue to be taken for granted.

    Thanks to my exchange with Topps, baseball card collecting lost all its joy. I’ve been collecting for over 30 years, sticking to the hobby through all the trials and tribulations since the mid ’80s. Topps cannot afford to lose collectors like me, but they managed to do so thanks to the exceeding tone-deaf and arrogant responses I got when trying to raise issues with their product.

    Life is too short to have a hobby that no longer makes you happy.

  17. Zack 4 January, 2016 at 18:00

    I have talked to people at multiple shops who believe that when Panini gets the exclusive football cards will largely disappear.

    Panini has destroyed products such legacy products as Crown Royale and made even a product like Contenders hit and most likely miss at best – and their regular products suffer from too much “sameness” and too many poor hits such as RPS junk “memorabilia. And that is even before they have an exclusive.

    The good news is that I’ll save a lot of money on football boxes next year and just chase individual cards.

  18. Richard 5 January, 2016 at 03:38

    For those worried about the long term of the hobby, just remember that there have been periods of time
    where no one made cards and then they returned. I expect this will repeat.

    If Panini does manage to kill the market because people leave in frustration, they will either learn or
    they will bail. If they bail, the sports franchises will not leave money on the table and will allow someone
    else to pick up the baton. They might even create their own card companies to do it, but I think they would
    rather someone else take the risks and cash the checks.

    From the prices I’ve seen the cards getting, there are a whole lot more losers than winners on this Eminence stuff. There has been one huge winner and that was the guy who sold an Andrew Wiggens card for $20K.
    Which is amazing considering a near identical card sold for $2300.

    There is a significant problem though in that so many cards have sold for just a fraction of their cost.
    That some of the cards have neither a signature or patch, just a piece of silver and are #’d low tells me they
    really don’t give a damn or at least are not thinking.

    Someone gets a card that effectively cost them $600+ and it sells for $40 is just not going to be happy and
    the people that are spending the $6K a pack are the ones that the company can least afford to lose.

    Here’s a hint Panini. Success comes not from selling a product at $6000/pack but rather selling a product
    that consistently sells for more after the initial release. When you do that, you can slowly increase the
    quantity made and over the long term make a hell of a lot more money.

    Every time you sell a product that quickly drops in retail price you should consider that as a sign you are doing something wrong. Some things are obviously not under your control, like a strike or lock out or just a really, really bad rookie crop (with proper design the veteran autograph cards will offset this), but when people are
    telling you what you are doing wrong and choose not to listen …. boom.

  19. Charlie DiPietro 5 January, 2016 at 10:20

    Topps Football products will be missed by ALL OF US. When the NBA Basketball exclusive went to Panini America (they took over the old Donruss Company in 2009), I thought my business would be severely affected. San Antonio, the home of the Tim Duncan era 5-Time NBA Champion Spurs, was primarily a NBA Basketball collecting city. Up until that time, Upper Deck and Topps were the only producers of NBA Basketball and Donruss (now to be Panini America) had no experience in producing NBA Basketball.

    Since taking over the exclusive for NBA Basketball, I have witnessed significant improvements in Panini America NBA products every year. The true measure of Panini America’s success in giving customers what they want is sales. My NBA sales have more than doubled from that of the Pre-exclusive NBA days. And, as far as innovation is concerned in a mid-priced product, my customer’s voted 2014-15 Select Basketball as “The Product of The Year” with their wallets. I sold over 600 boxes of the vastly improved 2014-15 Select Basketball to customers in my store.

    While ALL of US will miss Topps Football products, it is not “The End of The World” for NFL Football collectors. Panini America is not new to the NFL Football business. In my store, about 65% of my current NFL sales are Panini America products. Panini America is aware they must continue to work hard to win over those who are angry about the NFL exclusive and those who just plain prefer Topps NFL products. While it may not be the same as old Topps products, Panini America will continue to produce NFL products worthy of your patronage.

  20. steve emerick 5 January, 2016 at 19:04

    thank the lord that Upper Deck still produces cards that entices me to buy them!

    cant say the same for topps or panini and btw you two, use 2016 to clear my redemption list will ya! Ater all it does date back to 2012!!

  21. michael runyon 6 January, 2016 at 08:07

    i am looking foward to 2016 as the year nascar cards come back. I really wish it would emcompass all racing professional series but we need to get the biggest back first. its been a long year without a product. i have used this time to try and complete some of my master sets and hard to find nickname autographs. however some of my hobby funds have gone to die cast but i have most of the ones i need so lets bring back the cards

  22. Wolzal 10 January, 2016 at 07:46

    My one question would be: how does one company afford so many exclusive league deals, and pump out so much garbage, and remain a profitable business, while so many others have fallen over?

  23. Eddie g 10 July, 2016 at 06:01

    I like topps and upper deck products way better then panini. They should be back in all sports like they use to be. Panini does have the appea l to me like topps or upper deck. I think topps always held a strong value but upper deck offer some of the coolest inserts that as a collector you liked from pieces of shoe laces or sneakers to jordan inserts and more. Topps was always the best one with the most rookies.

  24. Craig 3 August, 2016 at 22:03

    You can see customs on eBay of what collectors want. Deep team cards of players never on a card or in sets they could have been in. So far this year in football panini has produced more historical packers than current and zero new players other than draft picks. How many Rodgers cards do I need? 1. It’s out of control.

  25. Ron D 5 December, 2016 at 10:55

    I’ve been around this “hobby” for some time and have personally been involved in many different aspects of the industry. I can tell you this with no uncertainty. The future of this industry has less to do with the manufacture and has more to do with the industries ability to bring mass appeal to a newer younger investor /collector. Contrary to popular belief, manufactures are controlled by the consumer and not the other way around. In business the consumer always leads the manufacturer as to what products they make and how they should be priced. Any shift we’ve seen over the past 8 years is directly linked to what the consumer wants. This is confirmed by industry sales numbers, which are higher than ever before.

    As much as the older more seasoned collector may not approve, this is what the majority have asked for. Higher priced more exclusive products. Exclusivity does not only come from limited production but can also come from the simple fact that only a few can afford it. This is why case breakers have exploded onto the scene and are becoming more and more popular. Digital cards are just an extension of this paradigm and again, older collectors may think they’re silly but industry numbers prove otherwise.

    With all that being said, the industry is still not out of the woods. Like I had previously mentioned, the future of this industry is completely dependent on whether or not they can bring mass appeal to the new collector. No industry can survive by cannibalizing itself. This often happens because they lack ability to gain mass appeal or the ability to bring on new consumers. In order to survive they simply reinvent and change things in hopes to appeal to the current consumer base. Right now this is where the industry is struggling. Though they have seen a resurgence of past collectors from the 80’s and 90’s they still have not found a way to break into the mainstream sports market. That market is huge and is where all future potential lies. The industry of hobbyists and collectors, up until now has been a niche market with appeal to very few. As long as it stays that way the industry is dead in the water. Both Panini and Topps are well aware the need to change this.

    The fantasy e-sports industry has shed light on the amount of sports fans out there completely willing to spend money on more than clothing and live events. Fantasy sports have taken off because until now, outside of going to or watching a game, there was nothing an avid sports fan could do to participate in or be part of what they loved most. Not only is it a new outlet for sports fans, but a venue that appeals to a younger newer generation.

    When and if the sports collectors industry can get the attention of the avid sports fan things will rapidly change in ways we would have never imagined. I personally think they are on the right track but that’s a discussion for a different time……

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