By Ethan Cahn aka hhliving1101

A funny thing happened on the way to the card shop: I woke up. I remembered that this wasn’t supposed to be about the big hit. This is a hobby I enjoyed because I respected (and in some cases adored) my childhood heroes from their various sports. I used to collect with the goal in mind to get the complete set and maybe even the inserts (which, during this time period, were few and far between). It’s no longer like that. The kids today need to understand that it shouldn’t be about the amount of autographs or jerseys you get that betters your experience. Yes, I would be lying to you if I said I didn’t enjoy pulling a Matt Ryan rookie autograph, but what did it teach my son?  The rest of the box was pretty much just split up and sold/traded off.

I am realizing as a father, and a collector who very much wants to share this wonderful hobby with his son, that the problem for him is he expects the autograph, jersey, or rare silk card (Harrison pulled the 2007 Mantle Turkey Red Silk out of his first pack of cards). How can we as collectors remind the younger generation that it’s not always about the big hit? And how can we, as the older generation, teach the younger generation the value in set collecting?

Sure, there have been the mainstays – the Topps and Upper deck basic sets – but even those are now too much, with all of the short prints and inserts. I bought a case of 2007 Topps attempting to get a master set of the inserts, not including autographs and jerseys, and I wasn’t even close. If I can’t do it because of costs, how is a 9 year old going to?

Now, to their credit, 2 of the big 3 have embraced the younger generation’s internet savvy (and the 3rd has recently rolled out a program of their own), creating programs combining cards with virtual cards (basically a virtual set within a set). While I think this might be a step in the right direction, they are set up as gimmicks and are very hard to navigate, with no true way to “collect” them. That is really not me: I’m the ‘have to hold’ collector. I do understand the appeal of these ideas, but kids still have to buy packs of cards, and be lucky enough to get a code card.

After a few days of contemplation on this, I noticed there was a recent development: Panini has rolled out its plans for this year’s Score set, and it’s a $1.00 a pack product. Granted, there aren’t many autographs, and I don’t believe any jersey cards, but it’s a very affordable product I can collect with my son: straight-forward with no real short-printed inserts (or at least nothing that will cost an arm and a leg to complete the set). I personally haven’t embraced the Panini exclusive(s), and I’m not sure I will, but this has definitely put a spin on things for me – at least for now.

I find Panini’s approach much better than the ongoing Topps promotion of the million card giveaway. Who was the target of this promotion? Our kids, or the seasoned collectors who wanted a shot at a Mantle? I ask this because Topps decided to put this in one of their lower end sets: 2010 Topps (which naturally inflated the cost of this normally basic and inexpensive set – it’s currently $19 per jumbo pack at my local card shop, up from $10). I see commercials on MLB targeting kids, yet the promotion isn’t really for them, is it?

With the exclusives in place, I am now starting to see what each company’s niche is going to be – and to me, it looks grim. It’s no secret that Upper Deck is holding on by a thread. They have hockey (with Panini), the NCAA, and a few entertainment products – but unforunately, until there is a change at the very top of the company (yes, Mr. McWilliams I am speaking about you, shredding counterfeit cards in your office), they are going to be doing the same thing as before: no change, business as usual, with “a lot of moving parts” (a quote from Facebook when asked about the delayed sets) leading to nowhere but more delays.

Topps, the MLB exclusive holder, the give-up artists who couldn’t care less about anything but bottom lines, is not pleasing their customers. I think they plan on doing their normal stable of marquee sets (the Chromes, etc.), but no real change will come about. They are too entrenched in their way, and feel collectors deserve nothing, even when they have been proven wrong.

Panini, well, that’s where this is going to be an interesting year. They have just about everything now, and recently committed to bringing the set collectors and kids back. But they also decided to limit their distribution methods, making it much harder and more costly for collectors to get their products. So I just don’t know how they are going to do with the new method. A lot of people will have to go through many different distributors to receive a box, and each one of those distributors will want their profits. Who is that going to trickle down to make up the difference?

US, THE COLLECTORS!

In the last 20 years we have gone through many changes and innovations in the sports cards/memorabilia world, but this could be the begining of the end. The high dollar products are not practical for the average collector, and whether or not the big 3 want to admit it, their money really is coming from the everyday person who goes to a show/shop.

I find it very sad that Topps, Panini, and Upper Deck tend to forget that…