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Thread: Baseball Cards In A Slump: Sales down 80 percent since 1991 (Fleer out of business)

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    Baseball Cards In A Slump: Sales down 80 percent since 1991 (Fleer out of business)

    I stopped collecting baseball cards after my senior year of high school in 1983. I had bought them one-pack-at-a-time from 1973-1977 before discovering that you could mail order the entire set at once in 1978. From '78-'83, my interest waned considerably, but I still sent off for the Topps set each spring until 1983. It was then that I began to look forward to college, and sought to put the things of my childhood to rest.

    In the spring of 1989, for whatever reason, I was looking through some of those old cards when I came across the 1979 (I think) Topps set, still in the box, with a note scribbled on a piece of paper lying on the top. That note indicated that the Bump Wills card was missing from the set.

    As part of the baseball card boom of the late 80s, a baseball card shop had sprung up in my town, just as they had all over the country. Hoping to make things right with that card set, I wandered into that shop seeking a Bump Wills card. As I waited for the shopkeeper to dig the card out of his commons bin, I begain to browse the store, and in a matter of minutes, I got myself caught up in the baseball card frenzy that caught up so many fans and collectors in the late 80s and early 90s.

    In the months that followed, I visited that store (and many others) countless times, seeking to complete those sets from 1972-1977. I went back and bought all the Topps sets from 1984-1989, just so I'd have the complete run. It was fun, and I spend a lot of money – much more than I should have.

    But it was also at that time that I noticed that the hobby had become something that it was never meant to be. Not all baseball card dealers and collectors were baseball fans. I doubt some of them had ever even sat down and watched a game. They were into it for one reason and one reason only: the money. It was this love of financial gain, rather than a passion for the game, that was driving people to buy up 100 or more of the same exact card, in the hopes that it would someday be worth as much as a Mickey Mantle rookie card was worth at that time. It was that love of financial gain that made people buy boxes and boxes of cards, only to stuff them away in a closet without ever breaking the seal. Is that what these things were for? Were they meant to never be touched by human hands, never seen by human eyes?


    As much as I disliked what the hobby had become, I finally relented and got caught up in the investment frenzy, although to a lesser extent than the majority of collectors. I have four sets of 1989 Fleer Factory sets in a closet that I paid $25 apiece for in the summer of 1989. Those had the Ken Griffey, Jr. rookie card in them, and were sure to be worth hundreds of dollars as the years passed. To this day, the cellophane wrap has never been broken on any of the four. I checked this set on ebay yesterday and found that it sells for less than $10, and that’s in the unopened condition that mine are in. Fortunately, I’m better off than a guy I knew at that time, who sunk several thousand dollars into unopened sets, boxes, and cases, only to discover that they can now be had on ebay for pennies on the 1990 dollar.


    I continued to buy cards and collect until 1991. It was about that time that things got really crazy and out-of-hand. Not only were there several brands of cards, there were several sets and issues within each brand. This made the hobby very confusing as far as I was concerned, and I finally abandoned it out of frustration. Things only got worse as the years passed. I think I read a few years ago that there were something like 125 different cards issued of Ichiro during his rookie season. That’s a far cry from 1975, when there was one primary card issued of each player, it was issued by Topps, and the only way to get one was to fork over your lawn mowing money for as many packs as you could afford and hope for the best. I’ve rambled on-and-on these past few minutes to set up the following article about the demise of the baseball card industry. (I had intended for this to be a one- or two-paragraph intro to the article, but couldn’t stop once I started reminiscing. ) Anyway, I'm sure there are many whose story is very similar to mine? Did the card companies cater too much to the investor mindset and shoot themselves in the foot in the process? I think they did, and I think their bag of tricks (sliced up game-used bats, jerseys, etc. inserted into the cards, etc.) is about empty. Perhaps now the industry can and will get back to what it originally was? Or perhaps, in this age of the Internet and instantly-available and instantly-updated statistics, the baseball card industry may become completely obsolete?



    http://www.baltimoresun.com/sports/b...ness-headlines


    Baseball cards in a slump

    Card collecting has waned in popularity, with sales sliding nearly 80 percent since their peak in 1991.


    By Justin Fenton
    Sun Staff


    Originally published July 15, 2005


    The crash of the American baseball card industry became official yesterday in a lawyer's office in New Jersey.

    Twenty-five years after breaking the Topps Co. Inc.'s monopoly on the industry, Fleer Corp. - bankrupt and $33 million in debt to a list of creditors, including $12,800 to Cal Ripken Jr. - was expected to be sold at auction last night, the most visible casualty of a pastime that has suffered sharp declines and a significant demographic shift over the past decade.

    What was once a hobby for boys, who stuck cards in the spokes of their bikes or flipped them on neighborhood playgrounds, has become an exclusive marketplace for adults. Grownups are swapping high-priced cards that contain everything from holograms to pieces of autographed bats, jerseys and balls - a far cry from the cardboard bubble-gum packs of the past.

    This year, sales of new cards, of which baseball remains the principal sport, will reach $260 million, according to Scott Kelnhofer, editor of Card Trade, an industry trade journal. That's down 35 percent since 1999, and nearly 80 percent off its $1.2 billion peak in 1991.

    Despite a potential record-setting year in attendance, Major League Baseball and the Players Association see the pricing out of a generation of young fans who have nothing but their weekly allowances to spend, and there are plans to announce in the next few months - possibly the next few days - a scaling back of product lines in an effort to stabilize the market.

    Jordan Stern of Havre de Grace remembers walking to the corner store 40 years ago as a child to buy a 50-cent pack of cards. But most packs now cost about $4, and some are as much as $20, $50, $100 and even $500. "Kids just can't participate in this hobby anymore," said Stern, 46, who owned a Bel Air card store for 16 years. "They're priced right out of the market now."

    The collapse of the market has made those corner stores harder to find for young fans such as Jordan Brody, a 10-year-old receiving hitting instruction at the Rich Jenkins Baseball Camp in Ellicott City.

    "I would collect them, but I don't know where to get them," he said. "The places near us, they don't sell them anymore."

    Area card stores have been closing or sharply cutting back hours, and Internet auction sites such as eBay have provided less costly channels to peddle merchandise.

    Sports trading cards became hot in the late 1980s, as older generations of fans dusted off their childhood collections and revisited hobby shops, suddenly making thousands of dollars. Meanwhile, a new generation started their own collections, figuring they, too, could someday make mini-fortunes if they took better care of the cards than their fathers did.

    The card industry took notice and began mass producing. More than a dozen new companies entered the marketplace, and card shops sprouted up around the country. Mike Tanner said four new stores opened within a quarter-mile of his Eastern Avenue store, the Baseball Card Outlet. And at discount stores such as Kmart, fans snapped up cheap boxes of baseball cards that were stacked 6-feet-high in aisles.

    The backlash of that prosperity has seen the demise of most of the startup companies. But yesterday's liquidation of Fleer gives the decline a sense of finality, according to those in the card industry. There are just three companies left: Donruss Playoff LP of Texas, the Upper Deck Co. of California and New York-based Topps.

    Meanwhile, cards from the 1980s and '90s, preserved in plastic cases and binders under collectors' beds, are worth next to nothing, according to some card vendors.

    "You can bring someone a binder of those cards and they wouldn't touch them," Stern said. "There were so many of those cards produced, and there's millions around."

    The market is largely driven by older collectors' thirst for memorabilia, Kelnhofer said. The high-priced packs guarantee players' autographs or dime-sized slices of bats, jerseys and stadium seats, built into the cards. The companies pay fees to current and retired athletes for signatures and jerseys, which can be sliced up and packaged into 1,000 cards.

    Meanwhile, younger children have gravitated towards fantasy card games such as Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh, while teens spend their time playing video games - a $7.3 billion industry, according to researcher NPD Group Inc.

    Annapolis resident Chris Smith, 34, remembers collecting baseball cards as a child for two reasons: the Orioles and the gum.

    Like many young collectors, Smith set a goal of getting all the cards of his favorite player and building team sets, something that's virtually impossible today. According to the Beckett Price Guide, five different kinds of Ripken cards were produced in 1986, which could be purchased today for $20.

    These days, collectors such as 12-year-old Jake Weyer would have to do more than mow his family's lawn to raise enough money to buy all of the 50 different cards that the retired shortstop appears on in 2005; Beckett lists the Ironman's 2005 cards as being worth a total of $3,840, ranging from $6 to $300 each.

    In court papers, Fleer Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer Chris Tobia said the major leagues and the players association have recently discussed limiting the number of licenses and products, and card makers say upcoming measures will attempt to rein in the industry.

    "Collectors are understanding [that] too much of anything is not a good deal," said Rich Klein, an analyst for Beckett.

    To achieve those limits, the majors and the players association would first have to scale back licensing fees, said Jim Barrett, an analyst for C.L. King & Associates who follows Topps, the only publicly traded sports card manufacturer. Card companies have been paying retired and current athletes for memorabilia, and they have been selling high-priced products to meet quotas still on the level of the 1990s boom.

    "If you have a big royalty payment to make to Major League Baseball and the Players Association, you're not going to sacrifice yourself and make less cards, sell less cards because you want to altruistically build the category," said Barrett.

    Topps recently reported a 78 percent decline in profits for its first fiscal quarter, blamed primarily on the sales of sports cards. Rumors are swirling that the company could be sold to a larger confectionary business.

    Spokesman Clay Luraschi said Topps is aware of the need to keep children engaged in collecting, and companies have taken strides to keep the hobby accessible. Topps offers four different kinds of cards between $0.99 and $1.99 a pack. An Upper Deck official said his company sponsors weekly card wrapper redemptions for Little League baseball equipment and trips to meet sports stars.

    "We look to build lifelong collectors," Topps' Luraschi said. "It goes hand in hand with the game and is one of the many facets that makes the game so special."

    Help stamp out, eliminate, and do away with redundancy.

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    Re: Baseball Cards In A Slump: Sales down 80 percent since 1991 (Fleer out of busine

    I remember back in 1990 when I actually collected an entire set of TOPPS cards by buying the individual "wax-pack" cards and trading doubles with friends that lived on my street in order to get the cards I was missing. The last card I needed to complete my set was a Marquis Grissiom card, and I must've bought a dozen packs looking for that one!

    I miss collecting baseball cards, and I think that people are missing the point of baseball cards if they bought them looking at them as an investment. Buying and trading cards, for me, was all about getting the neat looking pictures, being able to flip them over and read the statlines on any player, getting a full team set for the Reds, and possibly getting the hot "Rookie" card or whatever the big "error" card was (when I was growing up, it was the Upper Deck "Ben McDonald" Orioles card, had a whopping $35 out of the pack) that would shoot up in value, not so much because I would ever sell it, but because it was cool to know that you had a card that was worth money.

    We'd read "Beckett" to see what the hot cards were, to check out what the designs would look like for the next season, and to fight with one another over whether Topps or Donruss was the better buy.

    It kinda saddens me to think that kids these days would rather play with Pokemon cards than collect baseball cards. I truly blame Upper Deck for wrecking the card market by pushing the industry towards "high quality" cards that cost a lot of money to buy. When I was collecting Topps, each pack of cards was .50, and you got a piece of gum. For a 9 year old kid, .50 packs let you get two or three with your allowance money per week (or, at the very least, talk your mother into buying a pack for you at Walgreens). When Upper Deck started in with the $1.50-$2.00 packs, it just became too expensive to collect.

    The card makers really missed their mark in an effort to appeal to babyboomers who were attempting to "rebuild" the portfolios of cards that they had thrown out in their youth; baseball cards aren't supposed to be high-quality masterpieces of digital art. They are supposed to be cheap. The gum is supposed to taste grainy and awful (if you wanted good gum, you bought a pack of "Big League Chew"), and the sugar is supposed to ruin the top card in the pack.
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    Re: Baseball Cards In A Slump: Sales down 80 percent since 1991 (Fleer out of busine

    Macro and Caveat, I feel your pain.

    I began collecting in 1979 when packs of Topps cards could be had on sale at your local variety store for $.25 each. A box of cards could be purchased from our local candy distributor for about 12-15 bucks well into the 1980's. Even so, I must have spent double that just trying to pull the 1983 Topps Robin Yount I needed to complete my set.

    While I was trying to pull that card, I didn't notice that things were a'changin'. In 1981 Fleer re-entered the mix and Donruss jumped into the baseball card scene. The companies did so with horrid photos but quality card stock. I barely paid attention.

    But then, in 1984 something happened. Donruss, the new new kid on the block created what really should go down in history as a legendary card set bolstered by stunning design and a complete 180-degree turnaround in photo quality. The 1984 Donruss set was, IMHO, the true precursor to the market flood that would hit us less than half a decade later. The set, including Don Mattingly and Darryl Strawberry rookies, was beyond hot. I was lucky enough to get a box at MSRP at a local dime store, but before you knew it packs were selling at card shows for $3.00 and up. That was a Big Deal. Brook Jacoby rookies were selling for seven bucks and commons routinely ran a buck each or more. IMHO, that was the first test of what the market would bear and I truly believe that the manufacturers started to listen (and understand) the secondary market.

    Year two (1985) produced another exceptionally-designed product- the 1985 black bordered Donruss set (Eric Davis, Kirby Puckett, Roger Clemens, etc.). Just as hot as 1984 and #1 with a bullet. The emergence of Jose Canseco (can you believe his rookie was once a $100 card??) did nothing to diminish the luster of Donruss' offerings in 1986. Quality was key, but the perception of scarcity was still intact. You simply couldn't find 1986 Donruss cards anywhere after they first appeared.

    Fleer- lagging behind in card design- struck back in 1987. Wow were those nice cards. The Fleer glossy set even more so. But there we go- a premium offering, even if it was only as factory sets. The market would obviously bear that weight (as it had borne the Topps Tiffany sets) and now it had shown the market would bear multiple premium product offerings. Upper Deck simply capitalized on it in 1989. I truly don't blame Upper Deck for anything. They simply identified a market niche and exploited it.

    The 1987 Donruss set was well-designed (as we'd come to expect), but something happened...we began to find those cards more often and they were available for a longer period of time it seemed. Unfortunately, this perception wasn't a lie.

    The primary problem, in my eyes, is that the market- beginning with the mid '80's- became too saturated and involved too much heavy speculation on rookie cards. Not that I minded, because I was the guy who'd grab 50 Barry Bonds rookies for a dime each and trade them for 20 bucks when the time came. People who understood the ebb and flow of the market built their collections for almost nothing during that period. I was one of them. Dealers weren't smart. If you had the basic skills to project performance at that time, you could make a killing in the market. Folks call that speculation. Ok. I was a speculator in high school. But I didn't have the money to build my collection any other way.

    And then 1988 happened. That was the year that killed the baseball card industry as we knew it. The specific card I point to is the 1988 Fleer Billy Ripken in it's multiple "error" iterations. That card was a case study in how people would gobble up "limited" and "variant" print cards in the secondary market. "Error-gate" had begun and Donruss had responded with what seemed like a million "mistakes" of its own. If the card manufacturers needed a reason to issue gobs of insert cards, they now had it.

    Unfortunately, the hobby of collecting took a further turn away from kids and began to focus solely on the adult speculation which was, at the time, churning tons of money into the hobby. But, for years, smart collectors and dealers (like Al Rosen) were unshaken because they were focusing on the past- buying up high-grade truly scarce cards from the 1950's, 60's, and early-to-mid 70's. Other collectors turned to other products- like the re-introduction of basketball cards into the sports collectors market in 1986 by Fleer. Those collectors were rewarded with boxes of 1986-1987 Fleer Basketball product that had the potential to yield three Michael Jordan rookies to a box.

    Oh, there were some significant baseball offerings after that. Some update sets did well. 1992 Bowman (after three years of rank product offerings) was the bomb. Topps Stadium Club and Fleer Ultra burst on the scene to rave reviews and moved the Topps Tiffany and Fleer Glossy quality line into the mainstream. But the time of base cards holding value was long gone. Some folks didn't know it, but the time was done.

    <Editor's note: Don't even get me started on the 1990 Score set. I would like to forget that mistake was ever made.>

    The "scarcity" period was nearly a decade past. The time of quality being able to significantly bolster base card value was coming to an end. And that 1992 Bowman set created a massive problem for other issuers. Where Donruss "Rated Rookie" cards had previously been the accepted "Rookie" cards for young stars when applicable, now Bowman was printing cards of guys who'd never touched the Show and the industry accepted them (almost without exception) as true "Rookie" cards.

    This effect meant that the industry had to make choices. Without the ability to produce accepted "Rookie" cards in the base set, non-Topps companies turned to scarcity as an option. Oh, Topps Finest was on the scene. And Fleer attempted to keep pace with an incredibly well done premium set- Fleer Flair.

    But with each company attempting to trump each company, something had to give. It did. The "Insert Age" began.

    Inserts had been seen before in baseball card history. In the 1960's they took the form of stamps (and I made a hefty profit from those recently) and mini-posters. Just try to put together a set of 1975 Topps Minis. Good luck. Fleer had actually produced a very nice insert set including All-Stars in the 1980's. But none of it represented the flood to come.

    At first, inserts were scarce. Then less so. Then, every pack seemed to have an insert of some type in it as we saw multiple insert sets and multi-tiered rarity among insert sets. The "Memorabilia Age" was right around the corner.

    Want a piece of a game-used jersey? Hey, buy a $2.00 baseball card pack lottery ticket and you might just get one. Want an autograph of a real-live baseball player? Step right up and try your luck!

    What happened to the cards? I dunno. You mean that if I didn't get a swatch of someone's jersey in that pack there were still actually CARDS of players in it???

    That, IMHO, is the current problem. No one has cared about the cards for some time. Heck, even finding a jersey card or an autograph isn't enough anymore if it's not limited enough. No, now we need to find the George Washington autograph card inserted at a one-in-a-billion rate in a pack of Topps baseball cards (it was actually pulled at the card store I frequent, BTW).

    Now just being "limited" isn't limited enough. I've actually seen a card shop customer spend $550.00 on a pack of basketball cards. Now cards need to be truly unique rather than just limited. If it's not the highest quality "true" rookie possible, it's pretty much worthless to a speculator. And considering that player popularity is more transient today than at any point in baseball history, even the "true" rookie is a bad investment.

    Considering that the speculator was the only real grasp card manufacturers held on the market for a decade plus, that's a bad thing for the manufacturers because speculators are now almost completely echewing the current market in order to focus on the past- which is where their attention should have been all the time.

    But that current problem is also the current opportunity. Because of the expense of packs and the competition for market share, companies began inserting memorabilia and autographs at a higher (and subsequently higher) rate. The result was an aftermarket flooded with what were previously rare offerings that simply weren't very rare anymore. Prices on memorabilia cards dropped- and dropped significantly.

    That's actually a good thing for the collector who wants to get back into the market. Why? Because you can get things that are priceless to you and you can get them cheap. Right now, I'm looking at George Foster's signature on a Topps Archive card. I spent $4.00 for it. It's worth, oh, somewhat more to me than that. It's worth the $4.00 I paid for it and the gas that I used to drive to get it and the angst I caused my wife crowing about it. It's worth multiples upon multiples of that investment because the 10-year-old baseball fan in me knows that I could have never had anything as cool as that on my allowance in 1979. No way. No how.

    IMHO, we're entering another "Collectors" age where the young buyer can grab things touched by his heros for a fraction of a fraction of what they're acutally worth to him.

    That is, no doubt about it, a truly Good Thing to see the smile on that kid's face when you give him something his hero has touched.
    "The problem with strikeouts isn't that they hurt your team, it's that they hurt your feelings..." --Rob Neyer

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    Re: Baseball Cards In A Slump: Sales down 80 percent since 1991 (Fleer out of busine

    <Editor's note: Don't even get me started on the 1990 Score set. I would like to forget that mistake was ever made.>
    Sure you didn't mean the 88 set and not the 90?

    I had to look it up, because when you mentioned it that was what I first thought of, those putrid, technicolor monstrosities - but I was thinking of the 88's.


    I remember getting a set as a gift that year, and I just hated them. I guess I don't remember the 90 set as being that bad.

    But on the topic of cards - Caveat I too can remember the profound sense of accomplishment when I was finally able to get an entire set for two years in a row, the 1986 & 87 Topps.

    86 was probably my favorite baseball card year just a classic card from Topps

    Actually, the story I read earlier this week on JD's blog about Fleer prompted me to head over to my parents house and dig through their storage closet - one complete closet dedicated to baseball cards. It's been untouched for years.

    Our family fell victim to the same craze outlined in the article - the closet is filled with dozens upon dozens of mid 80's to early 90's partial and full sets of cards. But I don't come to the same conclusion about these cards being worthless.

    I've read this story, and each of marco, steel's and CE's storys (which all three brought smiles and an avalanche of memories kept below the surface - thanks guys) and I just can't get upset about it.

    Talking with my father about it, when I first heard the news about Fleer, neither of us can get anything other than a warm feeling about the baseball craze. We immediately started talking about what it was like to go digging thru baseball card shows all summer - of the time spent huddled over boxes and three ring binders keeping track of what we had.

    I look at it as a great experience of time spent with my father growing up, sharing a sport we love and experiences that we'll have for our lifetimes. I know he feels the same way.

    Am I disappointed cards have been reduced to a footnote in baseball history? Sure - but I think that ship sailed long ago on baseball cards being a popular and intricate part of our baseball lives.

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    Re: Baseball Cards In A Slump: Sales down 80 percent since 1991 (Fleer out of business)

    Sure you didn't mean the 88 set and not the 90?
    GAHHHHH! Dangit! Until you typed that I had actually dismissed the 1988 and 1989 offerings from my memory.

    The 1988 Score set was purged because of the cutting error that resulted in every corner of each card from the first print run (which was apparently a trillion cards) to be fuzzed. But it wasn't absolutely forgettable because it was the first fourth-party entry to the mix.

    The 1990 set I referred to is simply the worst baseball card set ever produced. It ranks, to me, even below the 1988 and 1989 Donruss sets- which were horrible (as was the 1989 Bowman offering), but still didn't rank as the complete junk the 1990 Score set represents.
    "The problem with strikeouts isn't that they hurt your team, it's that they hurt your feelings..." --Rob Neyer

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    Re: Baseball Cards In A Slump: Sales down 80 percent since 1991 (Fleer out of business)

    Oh, and I probably should note that the first two Leaf sets were very nice. And both Sportflix and Action Packed (lenticular holography and embossing respectively) offerings were pretty darn cool for their time. Neither caught on in the mainstream, but I have the entire first Sportflix set and it's one of my favorites.

    Sportflix was VERY hard to put together because there were so few cards per pack. I ended up completing the set by accident- I purchased a box that was horribly collated and wrote the company about it. A rep called me an offered to trade every double and triple from that box for every card I needed to complete the set. I was cool with that.
    "The problem with strikeouts isn't that they hurt your team, it's that they hurt your feelings..." --Rob Neyer

    "The single most important thing for a hitter is to get a good pitch to hit. A good hitter can hit a pitch that’s over the plate three times better than a great hitter with a ball in a tough spot.”
    --Ted Williams

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    Re: Baseball Cards In A Slump: Sales down 80 percent since 1991 (Fleer out of busine

    Quote Originally Posted by SteelSD
    GAHHHHH! Dangit! Until you typed that I had actually dismissed the 1988 and 1989 offerings from my memory.

    The 1988 Score set was purged because of the cutting error that resulted in every corner of each card from the first print run (which was apparently a trillion cards) to be fuzzed. But it wasn't absolutely forgettable because it was the first fourth-party entry to the mix.

    The 1990 set I referred to is simply the worst baseball card set ever produced. It ranks, to me, even below the 1988 and 1989 Donruss sets- which were horrible (as was the 1989 Bowman offering), but still didn't rank as the complete junk the 1990 Score set represents.
    Yeah I remember the 88 and 89 Donruss sets being quite bad
    88



    89


    Was never a big Donruss/Leaf or Fleer guy myself - just usually stuck to Topps, and the variety of packs they came up with (including the 89 Bowman I know you didn't like )

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    Re: Baseball Cards In A Slump: Sales down 80 percent since 1991 (Fleer out of business)

    BTW - here is something Business Week did on Topps last week

    http://www.businessweek.com/bwdaily/...2904_db016.htm

    What's in the Cards for Topps?
    The fabled maker of baseball cards and bubble gum has struggled of late. Some analysts see a sale in the offing


    Baseball may be the national pastime. But as Topps (TOPP ) has discovered, having a close association with one of America's great passions is no longer enough to guarantee strong growth.

    It has been a disappointing year for the legendary maker of sports cards and bubble gum. Its 2006 first-quarter results, posted June 28, showed a 10% drop in net sales year-over-year, from $88.1 million in last year's first quarter to $78.9 million this year.

    What's in the Cards for Topps?
    The fabled maker of baseball cards and bubble gum has struggled of late. Some analysts see a sale in the offing


    Baseball may be the national pastime. But as Topps (TOPP ) has discovered, having a close association with one of America's great passions is no longer enough to guarantee strong growth.

    It has been a disappointing year for the legendary maker of sports cards and bubble gum. Its 2006 first-quarter results, posted June 28, showed a 10% drop in net sales year-over-year, from $88.1 million in last year's first quarter to $78.9 million this year.

    BOOM AND BUST. Tracy Hackler of Beckett Media, which publishes magazines on sports collectibles, thinks a sudden influx of investment-minded card collectors in the 1980s also is to blame. They quickly abandoned collecting when they sensed poor profit opportunities, and that hurt sales, Hackler figures. "For the 50 years [prior to the boom], collecting cards was almost entirely a pursuit of passion," says Hacker. Then, in the '80s, "it became a get-rich-quick scheme. The number of manufacturers and cards multiplied, then almost as quickly as those people came in, they left."

    Analyst Dennis McAlpine of McAlpine Associates agrees. "There were too many competitors making too many cards available, so the value of cards in the aftermarket started going down, the prices started going down, and collectors started getting out. Only kids were left, and then the cards were probably overpriced for the kids."

    Yet, Beckett Media's Hackler thinks the market may still rebound. "Kids are a definite growth market for trading cards. You also have sports fans in general who may have never collected. It's just a matter of finding something that resonates with them."

    BRIGHT SPOTS. Jefferies analyst Routh believes Topps has some valuable brands and trademarks that it could license to partners such as sports-equipment makers, creating new revenue streams. He cites the well-known Topps brand as a crown jewel. "Licensing it to various manufacturers would be a noncapital-intensive, risk-averse way to generate revenue." Licensing has worked well for companies like Marvel and Playboy (PLA ), Routh adds.

    Topps's entertainment divisions have made some innovative and successful moves in recent years, most analysts agree. Its WizKids unit, acquired in July, 2003, has performed well with the sale of collectible strategy games. Its nonsports card sales, including Pokémon, Star Wars, and Operation Desert Storm cards also have helped to make up for some of the sports-card shortfalls.

    In October, 2001, Topps launched etopps.com, where people buy only the cards they want from among as many as 2,000 offered each week at prices ranging from $3.50 to $9.50. Buyers keep the e-cards in their portfolios, and can play various online games against other players, either just for fun or using cards as bets.

    HOCKEY BOOST? Analyst McAlpine says so far, etopps is more or less breaking even, but Routh believes that making card-buying interactive and more exciting is a good way of adjusting to the new market environment and could eventually increase the market for sports cards.

    Topps could also get a boost from the return of hockey and the World Baseball Classic, a baseball tournament of teams from around the world to be held next March.

    Routh points out that Topps has virtually no debt, with $92.9 million in cash and assets on hand. He believes the entertainment side could do well on its own. Barrett cites the Pokémon tide of five years ago, which provided Topps with a quick shot in the arm.

    "STILL FUN." Although Topps and its products have been staples in American culture for decades, its bubble gum has been hit by increasing concerns about health issues and retailer consolidation, and its entertainment products are hurting in the wake of ever-increasing competition for play time. Still, "it's not your father's trading-card business any more," says Beckett Media's Hackler. "It's still very cool, and it's still fun, it's still an important part of Americana."

    With a few strategic adjustments, such as expanding its online entertainment alternatives and leveraging its long history and trusted brand name better, analysts agree that Topps may still have a prosperous future.

  10. #9
    Member SteelSD's Avatar
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    Re: Baseball Cards In A Slump: Sales down 80 percent since 1991 (Fleer out of busine

    The Leaf sets I'm talking about were after they split the set from the Donruss (US)/Leaf (CAN) issuances:



    Great card stock. Simple design. I thought the 1991 Leaf offering was even better:



    And yeah, I liked the 1986 Donruss/Leaf design you showed us. Probably because those cards were just so darn glossy and clean at the time while still (to me) interesting.

    Oh, and a huge thing for me was the obvious reduction in cardstock weight for the 1988 and 1989 Donruss sets. You could feel it a little bit in the 1987 set, but the two years after were just ridiculous. It just felt like junk in your hand.
    "The problem with strikeouts isn't that they hurt your team, it's that they hurt your feelings..." --Rob Neyer

    "The single most important thing for a hitter is to get a good pitch to hit. A good hitter can hit a pitch that’s over the plate three times better than a great hitter with a ball in a tough spot.”
    --Ted Williams

  11. #10
    Baseball card addict MrCinatit's Avatar
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    Re: Baseball Cards In A Slump: Sales down 80 percent since 1991 (Fleer out of business)

    frankly, i am surprised Fleer and Donruss have lasted this long. whenever listing sets, both were "also rans" along with Score - in fact, Donruss was pretty much considered the laughing stock of the industry.
    i think the industry has pretty much destroyed itself. way too many sets from too many companies, with too many "premium" sets. it was when Upper Deck came out that the days of the "One dollar and under" packs became extinct - even Donruss and Fleer charged high prices for their packs, which pailed in comparisson to Upper Deck and Topps.

    myself, i still collect cards, but i focus on the older ones - though i do occassionally buy an Upper Deck Set, and have recently gone after some of the jersey and bat cards for Reds players. but the hobby will never reach the same magic is did from about '75-'84.

    a thread a while back, i posted some images of my older cards. some day i hope to do the same again, though this time with some Reds cards of yesterdays gone.

  12. #11
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    Re: Baseball Cards In A Slump: Sales down 80 percent since 1991 (Fleer out of business)

    I have long decided that the death of baseball cards came along in 1990 or so, when it became a reality that the cards that compose the regular set meant nothing. The only cards that held any value were the so-called "inserts". Now then, that was bad, but not the worst. The worst was when I continually watched guys go 4-5 on SportsCenter, and sure enough, the Guides had them going up. But, as some sort of perverted balance, cards of stars long retired would go down, mostly due to lack of interest I would assume. What have you done for me lately Willie McCovey?

    Then, as I held on to my beloved hobby, I started to realize the same things mentioned...I kept running into guys at shows that were buying up a ton of stuff, but couldn't even tell me what position the guys played. Much the same thing happened in my other hobby (comic books...anyone else pull that rare double hobby?) as people started to pile tons of money into the reported value of these pieces of cardboard and paper originally meant for kids.

    Then there was the final straw. GRADING! Now it was a crime to look at your cards or comics...you had to have them sealed in plastic and put away in a dark cool place.

    I could scream.

  13. #12
    Big Red Machine RedsBaron's Avatar
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    Re: Baseball Cards In A Slump: Sales down 80 percent since 1991 (Fleer out of business)

    I collected cards from 1965 through about 1971, with 1966-69 being my primary years. After that, I'd usually buy a pack or two a year just for old times sake. I still have all my cards, plus cards from the 1950s a cousin gave me years ago, with a few exceptions.
    Sometime back in I believe the early 1990s, when cards were hot, I happened to be in a local card shop when I noticed a Noaln Ryan rookie card, one of the Topps cards from about 1966-67 that featured Ryan on half the card and another Mets rookie (I think it was Jerry Koosman) on the other half. The dealer was asking $800 for the card. I hadn't looked at my own cards in years, but I immediately thought: I've seen that card before!
    When I got home, I went to my attic and found that I had two such Ryan rookie cards, both of which appeared to be in great shape to my untrained eye. I returned to the dealer, who offered me what he said was the wholesale price for the cards, $400 each. I quickly sold both cards, plus a couple of other cards, and left the dealer nearly $1000 richer.
    I wouldn't (and won't) sell any of the cards that mean something to me, such as my early Rose, Perez and Bench cards, but I was and am glad to have exchanged pieces of cardboard with Nolan Ryan's picture on them for pieces of paper with the pictures of U.S. Presidents on them.
    BTW, I was later at the same dealer and noticed that he had a 1965 Ken Boyer card, the last card made of Boyer as a player in a Cardinal uniform. Boyer was my first baseball hero. His card meant something to me, more than a Nolan Ryan card ever did. When I asked the dealer how much the card was, he simply gave it to me. I realize Ken Boyer cards aren't worth much (though Boyer should be in the Hall of Fame), but I still appreciated the gesture.
    "Hey...Dad. Wanna Have A Catch?" Kevin Costner in "Field Of Dreams."

  14. #13
    Member cumberlandreds's Avatar
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    Re: Baseball Cards In A Slump: Sales down 80 percent since 1991 (Fleer out of business)

    I collect baseball cards too. I just go for the older ones. Right now I am working on Topps sets in the 60's and 50's. In the last couple of years I finished the Topps 70's sets except for one card(1970 Nolan Ryan). I buy them through Yahoo and EBAY auctions and some other online dealers. They for the most part aren't nearly as expensive as the newer cards and the older ones mean more to me than the newer ones. I just can't justify spending $4.00 for a pack of cards. I can remember buying packs for .25 cents in the early 70's. Topps and the others need to make it more affordable to the kids and they might just see more of a profit. The MLBPA should limit the license to one company and that may help bring back that specialness in collecting cards.
    Reds Fan Since 1971

  15. #14
    The Lineups stink. KronoRed's Avatar
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    Re: Baseball Cards In A Slump: Sales down 80 percent since 1991 (Fleer out of business)

    I'm glad I got into collecting right before all the newer sets arrived and destroyed the market, I have fond memories of heading up to the local Convenient store and getting a pack of Topps and chewing the gum as I walked home, Topps always felt like real baseball cards, Donruss? I liked em..the colors were spiffy

    I stopped collecting in about 1994, too many sets, too much money, not just a Topps set to get..but a Topps traded,and super duper flashing stars set.

    Too much.
    Go Gators!

  16. #15
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    Re: Baseball Cards In A Slump: Sales down 80 percent since 1991 (Fleer out of business)

    Im bummed. I have piles of Becketts with Jordan, Griffey and Glavine on the cover and at one time, those issues were lucrative investments....now my whole collection of Beckett are worthless heaps of paper not worth $5-10 for the whole lot.



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