Inside the Pack: Topps Industry Conference Roundup

Last week, Topps held their annual Industry Conference. As is usually the case with these events, there was a lot of celebration of Topps products, as well as a few noteworthy agenda items. In particular, there were three tidbits I saw that piqued my interest more than others.

  • Bowman Sterling is back, and Bowman Tek is going away. While Topps High Tek is staying, the Bowman Tek brand will disappear this year. I don’t think this is any huge loss. Bowman Tek autographs typically sold for a fraction of their flagship Bowman counterparts, and two Tek products seems like overkill. Bowman Sterling popped up last year as a popular insert set in the flagship Bowman product, so breaking it out as a separate set — the way it used to be until 2014 — makes perfect sense. The early years of Bowman Sterling were truly beautiful, but from 2012-2014 the card designs looked like a lower end product. The 2018 Insert Set felt more deserving of the “Sterling” name, and I’m hoping the standalone product continues that design path. I’m also hopeful that a successful return for Bowman Sterling could lead to a relaunch for the originator of the mark, Topps Sterling. Running from 2006-2010, Topps Sterling was a beautiful, unique, high end product that still holds value well today.
  • In a wonderful gesture, Topps auctioned off the rights to appear on a 2019 Allen and Ginter card. The proceeds went directly to help the family of card collector and group breaker Clay Parks, who passed away in the Aurora, IL, shooting in February. I was shocked at the final price — $21,000 — but that may be an inflated price since the money went to a great cause. The winning bid received national media coverage from former ESPN sports business reporter Darren Rovell, who tweeted about it after the auction ended. Given the high price tag raised for charity and the mainstream recognition of it, one wonders if a charity auction for a Ginter Card will be a yearly event, although the hope would be that there are no further tragedies that require charity help.
    Credit: @sportscardnews on Twitter
  • Topps claims there are 6 million collectors — kind of. In a slide posted to Twitter by @SportsCardNews, Topps discussed a “challenge,” noting that 93.4% of MLB fans are not card collectors. Looking at the raw data, they say that 90.3 million of the 96.6 million MLB fans do not collect. That means their data shows that 6.3 million MLB fans collect cards. This number seems incredibly high to me and to several other people I talked to. Given what I’ve seen from production numbers, turnout at shows (including the National), and participation in Facebook groups and message boards, that number seems 10 times too high, in my opinion. A figure of 6 million means that almost 2% of the entire US population collects baseball cards (remember, this stat was specifically about baseball, not other sports), and I don’t see how that could possibly the case. The only way I can see this stat as being accurate is if “collector” is so loosely defined that it includes anyone who owns a baseball card or has purchased a baseball card in their lifetime. As far as active collectors, I think that number is much, much less. Which isn’t a bad thing — especially when you consider that in the same presentation, Topps noted that the National has seen 130% attendance growth over the past decade and that Topps forecasts 15-20% growth for 2019 across all its card holdings, including MLB, WWE, Star Wars, and soccer. I can buy into both of those statistics, but not the idea that there are 6 million baseball card collectors. I’d love to know more about the data behind that statistic.

All in all, reaction on Twitter and on internet card forums was positive to the news coming out of the Topps Industry Conference. While more information came out than the 3 bullet points I noted, much of it was of the standard to-be-expected. It seems that 2019 will be a strong and exciting year for Topps products, and for us, the collectors of those products.

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