Friday 14 May 2021

Sports Leagues Need to Give Out More Trading Card Licenses

Night Owl Cards published a post over on his blog talking about Target's decision to eliminate most trading card sales in their retail stores. In case you are unaware, Target has decided to take NFL, MLB, NBA and Pokemon cards out of their stores due to customers doing crazy things, like pulling guns on each other and getting into fist fights. They'll still be sold online and cards no one wants (like NHL or NASCAR) will still be sold in stores, too.

I left a comment on Night Owl's blog. I wrote:

I worked in retail management for years. I predicted Target's decision ages ago. I'm a card collector, and if I managed a retail store, I absolutely, 100% would never, ever, ever want trading cards sold in my store, ever. The margins are low and the theft is high, and customer problems are even higher. Never, ever, ever, ever. I can't imagine Target's operations division wants anywhere near these products again.

In my mind, the issue is the boom compared to scarcity. I think the scarcity is artificially created by the leagues and player associations limiting the amount of brands that can be produced and giving out exclusive licenses. It seems to me this was the case because of the bust in the nineties due to overproduction. I think they can lift some of the exclusives, and allow more licenses. For instance, MLB could allow Panini a license. NBA could certainly give Topps or Upper Deck a license, as Panini is clearly unable to keep up with demand of basketball cards. There can still be limitations on the number of brands made, but it's possible at this point to start opening up licensing again.

I'd like to expand on these comments a little bit.

The reason I would be so negative on having sports cards in my store would be the massive amount of additional work they would create for no extra reward. Retail management is a really hard job, made even more difficult by Covid. Retail managers in 2021 are badly burnt out, and don't want to deal with customers trying to shoot each other over stuff sold in the toys section.

I feel strongly that a lot this is caused by the artificial scarcity created by the leagues and player associations giving out exclusive licenses. A lot of that was done because after the trading card bust in the nineties, not a lot of people were collecting and there was a glut of product that made it a poor market for consumers. 

This is no longer the case. MLB, for instance, can give Panini a license now. Panini has been making baseball cards with a license from the MLBPA, but can't use team logos or names because the MLB has given them no license. They could easily do this. There is obviously a significant demand for more product than what one company can produce for each sport.

The big one is obviously the NBA. Panini clearly is incapable of keeping up with the demand. A lot of these retail scenarios can be smoothed out by giving an additional NBA license to Topps or Upper Deck. UD would be a great one for the NBA, because Upper Deck owns the Fleer brand, and they have an exclusive agreement with Michael Jordan. Imagine the demand right now for new products featuring Jordan in a Bulls uniform. Also imagine the demand for Fleer, a legacy name for basketball cards. I have to think UD is on the phone regularly with the NBA trying to get something like this done.

Topps could also jump into the NFL, and Panini had a license for a few years from the NHL and could probably have that back. All of these companies could make significantly more money selling new products because of the pent up demand and the artificial scarcity created by exclusive licensing blocking them from making new products.

And the thing is, these new products don't have to create a glut on the market like in the nineties. They can learn from the past. The leagues can limit the amount of releases from each company to a level where each company releases enough to be profitable, but not so many as to oversaturate the market. This balance is hard to achieve in practice, and would be different for each league. Obviously the NBA could use more sets than the NHL.

Another idea would be limiting the types of cards allowed in additional sets. For instance, if you print a zillion LeMelo rookies, it is going to oversaturate the market. You could avoid people shooting each other at Target if you limit rookie cards to brands that are only sold online, and retail brands would feature sets that have lower value cards and are missing rookies. These would be of little interest to flippers, but would still be of interest to kids and general collectors.

That means the leagues or player associations would need to set a number as to how many brands can include rookies, or how many could include autos, or how many could include game-used, etc. You could thus produce more brands to satisfy additional demand without oversaturating the market, and get cards into the hands of people who are not just flipping them for profit.

What do you think?

Monday 10 May 2021

A Brief Glance at My Blue Jays Autograph Collection

I have a small collection of autographs of guys who played for the Blue Jays World Series teams in '92 and '93 that I have so far neglected to show on my blog. I was a huge baseball fan when I was a kid and loved the Jays, because growing up in Ontario at that time we only had two genuine options for sports, the Jays and the Leafs. The Leafs stuck and played during the winter. Jays were much better and played through the summer. The Raptors didn't exist when I was a kid, and CFL is really only popular out west. So, it was Leafs for part of the year, Jays for the next part.

I was never a big Leafs fan because they always stunk. They are probably my favourite NHL team, but among the teams I follow in various sports they are amongst my least favourite of my favourites, if that makes any sense.

First up is one of two Dave Stiebs I own. Stieb was more of an 80s Blue Jays guy, but he threw a no-hitter in 1990 and I believe he got a ring for the 92 title. I don't think he played any playoff games, but he got in some regular season games. Stieb was a great pitcher and I don't think he quite gets the recognition he deserves because the Jays didn't get good until the mid '80s, plus I doubt Toronto was a great baseball market until they actually won the World Series. Stieb also had a great rivalry with Jack Morris of Detroit back in the day.

Olerud had a great year in '93, but he was never quite as good after that. He was a fan favourite for the Jays through their championship runs and I wish he had stayed with the team longer into his career.

Borders had an insane 92 World Series, winning the World Series MVP that year. He was never as good before or after. It was so weird because I remember watching the Series and it felt like every time he came up to bat, there was a chance it would be a home run. Like Olerud, he was another player that was a champion with the team twice and then spent the rest of his career bouncing around different teams.

This is the other Stieb. This photo looks like it's from much later in his career compared to the autographed card at the top.

The late, great Tony Fernandez. He's the first Jays World Series winner to have passed away. He was with the team in 93, but not in 92 as he was part of the famous trade that brought Alomar and Carter to Toronto. He actually played for Toronto four times, but his best years were in the 80s. I'm really glad he got a ring in 93, though.

Well, what can someone say about Alomar these days? I'm actually surprised that so many other people are surprised about what has come out about him. Even back in the day it was common knowledge that he wasn't a great human being. Like, if someone had told me that a member of the Jays World Series teams did what Alomar has been fired for, but I wasn't told the name, my first response would be, "Probably Alomar". I know we all collect baseball cards, but I don't have this pretense that all the players I collect or watch are decent human beings. In fact, some of them are probably deplorable human beings, which is why we have to keep this stuff in context. After all, it's just a game.

Wednesday 5 May 2021

Being a collector in Canada is tough.

I'm seeing a lot all over the hobby news about PSA's backlog, as well as Ebay changing things to make it easier for trading card sellers.

The problem with being in Canada is that I don't have access to stuff like PSA or Ebay in the same way that people from the US do.

Take PSA, for example. It costs an enormous amount of money to submit a card to them for grading from Canada. So much, that it is not worth doing unless you are grading something that after it's graded will be worth hundreds of dollars or much more. It makes PSA prohibitive to use as a Canadian, and it is simply easier to buy cards already graded. For people that love the gamble of submitting cards to PSA, you really can't do it if you are Canadian.

There is a Canadian grading company called KSA, but no one takes them seriously. There is no point in submitting to them because the graded cards you get back do not command any premium above the cost of grading, for the most part.

Ebay is another example. Shipping is so, so expensive to Canada via Ebay. Also, there are a lot of sellers that won't ship outside the US. When I am on Ebay, I usually filter cards by location and try to find sellers in Canada first. There is a ton of hockey, but not much else. I then expand the search to sellers from the US, but often times you end up paying $25 to ship a single worth $5 here.

I used to use COMC as a mailbox service for Ebay, but COMC is deeply, deeply unreliable. They even lost one of my mailbox cards last year and it took them weeks to list it after the tracking said it was delivered. When I emailed and asked about the missing card, they never replied. It just showed up randomly in my port a few weeks later. That's way too much risk for me, because what if COMC never finds the card? What is their liability to me? And I can't file a claim on Ebay because the card is shown as delivered on tracking. Besides, it's not the Ebay seller's fault that COMC is run by boneheads.

Another thing is I see so many cool, low dollar trades going on throughout card blogs. I can't really participate in a lot of these because the cost of shipping between Canada and the US is expensive and most bloggers are south of the border.

So, I have to be strategic with my purchases. I haven't completed a trade in over a decade, but I'm guessing that's the case with a lot of people. I use to love using COMC until the pandemic hit and they flushed all their goodwill with customers down the toilet. Seriously, I complain about them a lot, but they have had the biggest downfall in goodwill by a company I've ever experienced. But although I've had credit sitting in my account with them for like a year now, I'm afraid of spending it because it will either cost like $50 to mail some cards, or I have to wait a few months.

Besides Ebay and COMC, my only other option is Sportlots. I really like Sportlots, but they are mostly used for commons. Sometimes you can find a bargain on a more valuable card, though. They also have a box service for Canadians, but it is just for Sportlots sellers to ship to a central location and then I accumulate all the cards and ship them to myself. It saves an enormous amount of money and the execution is smooth. However, I can't use it as a place to receive cards from Ebay.

Sportlots actually has a better business model than COMC, because the Sportlots catalogue is decentralized among many sellers whereas COMC has to worry about massive amounts of inventory. With COMC, there are so many questions about insurance, what happens to cards if the company goes bankrupt, missing inventory and stuff that's not catalogued. Sportlots doesn't have that problem so much because sellers control their own cards.

Anyway, participating in the hobby as a Canadian makes everything twice as expensive. And that's not even include the exchange rate, which adds basically 25% cost to every purchase. So, when a US seller charges me $20 for shipping, that's actually $25 to me. And if the card was $4, that's $5. So I am paying $30 for a $4 card. That sounds unbelievable, but it happens regularly to the point where I feel handicapped as a collector.

Are you a collector that lives outside the US? How do you deal with these issues?

Friday 30 April 2021

Dropping cash on 2020-21 Tim Hortons, the easiest cards to find in Canada

Every fall for a few years now Tim Hortons has released a set of hockey cards produced by Upper Deck. If you don't know, Tim Hortons is a chain of coffee shops that was originally founded by the late Tim Horton, a Hall of Fame defenseman for the Leafs who died in a car crash after retiring from hockey. Tim never saw his company take off the way it did, and now it's one of the most recognizable brands in Canada.

Truthfully, a lot of Canadians hate Tim Hortons, even if they guzzle Tim's coffee daily. The company has changed hands several times and in the past few years has been notorious for reducing the quality of their goods, as well as having made the news for some high profile stories about the mistreatment of staff and the decline of their once popular "Roll Up the Rim to Win" prize contest.

Nevertheless, despite the popular criticism of the Tim's franchise, their cards remain ever popular in Canada. They are probably the most collected sports cards in the country, simply because they are the most visible. Usually card values are high when the set first releases, and decline over time except when it comes to their ultra rare inserts.

The cards come in packs of three, $1 with a purchase and $2 for each pack after that. There are like ten thousand Tim's coffee shops in this country, however, and none of them seem to follow the rules accurately. Like, some Tim's impose limits on how many packs you can buy. Others let you buy whatever. Some you have to buy a coffee or something else first, others you can just walk in and buy the backs. It's whatever.

McDonald's used to release a set of hockey cards dating back to the early nineties until about ten years ago, but they dropped out. Tim's picked up doing a card set a couple of years after that. There isn't much difference in quality from McDonald's to Tim's, really. Canadian Tire also did a couple of hockey cards releases in the past few years, but stopped. I really enjoyed the Canadian Tire cards and thought the cards were way better than what Tim's releases, even if they were both produced by Upper Deck.

I buy stacks of packs every year just for the fun of a cheap rip. But I never end up trying to build the set, and end up trading away or selling most of what I pulled. Also, I was a bigger hockey fan as a kid, but as an adult I have grown (very) tired of the sport and its unique style of petulant Canadian jingoism. Also, Upper Deck is by far the crappiest of the major card companies. For all the complains about Topps and Panini, Upper Deck is something else entirely. I still enjoy vintage hockey cards, though, and will always love O-Pee-Chee.

I opened maybe fifty packs last fall and here are some of the better hits.

These are four Clear Cut Phenoms cards I pulled. They are acetate cards similar to Ice, a product Upper Deck has put out every year since the nineties. I think these are probably the nicest looking cards in the Tim's product, even if they aren't the most valuable. Ice is usually an expensive product to buy, probably because acetate cards are expensive to produce. I've been absolutely ripped off on packs and boxes of Ice, dropping a large amount of money to get pennies back and no cards for my personal collection. So, these Tim's acetate cards are a nice alternative to Ice.

These are the Red Die Cuts. I believe these are the most common insert cards, if I am not mistaken. Well, technically they are parallels. They look pretty good. They're really only die cut in the way that their corners are shaped like playing cards. I actually really like die cut cards, but I find I enjoy them when the cut is really cool rather than kinda lazy. These cards are on the lazy end. I think examples of cool die cuts are the Hot Gloves baseball inserts from the nineties, and the McDonald's goalie glove inserts from their old hockey releases.

I'm also not super big on the red background, but that's just me. 

They included Tim Horton in this set, as a base card and as a parallel and maybe some inserts. That makes sense because the company is named after him. I wish they included more Hall of Famers in the Tim's release, as I am much more interested in classic players compared to the current crop. But that's also just me, as obviously the guys currently playing are going to have a broader appeal to the mass market compared to a bunch of retired guys.

Do you guys collect Tim's hockey cards? What about you American hockey collectors, do you like getting these shipped down from us here up north?

Friday 16 April 2021

How does someone go about being a set builder in 2021?

As I've reentered the hobby over the past few days, I've been trying to decide what I want to spend my money on. I have income, but with the world the way it is, I feel a lot of people are being foolish with their spending. I don't want to be foolish. I want to stick to a budget, and keeping that in mind I am trying to decide how to get the most bang from my buck out of the hobby.

One of the things I've found with collecting cards over the past couple of decades is that I never really complete a project. I tend to start on something, get into it, decide it's not for me or too expensive or whatever, and sell what I've already acquired and then quit the hobby for a few months.

Often I find the issue is not just money, but also choice. There is just so much to collect! And I am a fan of a wide variety of sports. I grew up on hockey and baseball, but as an adult I enjoy basketball and soccer the most. I also watch football, boxing, and mixed martial arts. I bet I could get into tennis and golf if I wanted to.

I enjoy collecting cards for all these different sports. Here in Canada locally, it is easy to acquire hockey. Baseball is not bad. Everything else is impossible.

Choice normally sounds great, but when you are sticking to a budget, then choice can be crippling. I like all the Toronto based sports teams. I like a lot of their players. People talk about limiting themselves to a team or a player, but that still doesn't whittle my choices down to enough where I have a focus.

I'm kind of an old school guy in a lot of ways. I like set building. I know a lot of people don't like it, and I do have some knocks against it. It's kind of annoying to accumulate large quantities of low value cards that are hard to sell if you decide you no longer want them. But that's only if you sell them, of course.

One of the major appeals of set building is to see a variety of players and teams. I found as a kid, I learned so much about hockey from collecting sets of hockey cards. If I built a Topps baseball set, for example, I would feel more connected to other players and teams in the league besides the Jays. It's more fun that way.

I'm also a big book guy. I just moved into a new apartment, and one of the big things I want is like a wall of books. I love books. I'm a reader, obviously a writer since I have this blog, and I enjoy collecting books. I feel like a set of cards put into a binder is kind of like a book. It's almost like an album about the specific season of a league. Like, you can open it up and read through it and kind of have a snapshot of what the league was like at that point in time.

One of the things I've always wanted was to have a fun of Topps baseball or O-Pee-Chee hockey vintage sets. Like, to see I had a complete Topps base set for every year from 1970 through 1989, or whatever. I could open up the binder with those cards and read it, like I would a book.

I like modern sets, too, though. I think, though, because there are so many modern sets released each year, they don't have the same feeling of being a snapshot in time as vintage sets do. That's not to say I don't like modern sets, it just seems obvious that modern collecting is more geared towards investors first, and player and team collectors second. There are a few releases that are geared towards set collectors (Heritage, O-Pee-Chee hockey, maybe a couple others), but not many.

If you had to start your collection and you wanted to build a set, where would you start? Which set would be your first? It seems more efficient to work on one set at a time, but also kinda less fun. I feel like I want to work on one set from each different sport, so I have a few things going at a time and it doesn't become stale.

How would you go about doing this?

Thursday 15 April 2021

It turns out my collection is worth a lot of money and I hate it

After selling two of my most valuable cards on Ebay over the past few months, I've been reviewing the sale prices of other cards in my collection. I've come to a conclusion: you're all crazy.

I have a small collection of cards. I have a complete run of Wayne Gretzky 1980s O-Pee-Chee cards. I have a personal collection of Joe Carter cards that ranges from the (rapidly increasingly) valuable and junk that no one wants except me. I have a bunch of autographed cards from guys who played for the Jays World Series teams. I have a bunch of memorabilia and autographs of guys who played for the Raptors championship team. I have some random junk I got in wax breaks. That's about it.

I own a PSA 10 Donruss Joe Carter rookie. I bought if for about $80 or so a few years ago. It's now going for up to $800 on Ebay. That's nuts. I love Joe Carter, man. He's my favourite baseball player. I'll never forget his home run in 93. But $800!! And not to forget, I have a second version of that card that is autographed by Joe and authenticated by Beckett as a '10' autograph.

Honestly, I don't want to sell any of my stuff. I didn't want to sell my Gretzky rookie or my Gretzky auto. I wanted to keep them until I'm dead. But prices have gotten so out of hand that the money is simply forcing the issue.

I've started listing my collection on Ebay. I hate selling cards. It's so much work. Taking the photos, doing the Ebay listing, fielding offers, accepting an offer, packaging the cards, realizing I don't have packaging, going to Staples, coming back home, packaging the cards, going to the post office, dealing with customers who want their cards immediately even though I live in a locked down city in Canada during a global pandemic. And then going it, again and again and again for each card.

And Ebay buyers are insane. If you don't purchase tracking for your card, there is like a fifty-fifty chance you will get ripped off because all a buyer has to do is say he never received your card and Paypal just sides with him. You need tracking. The only thing is that tracking to the US is like $30 here in Canada. It's nuts.

Usually, for cards with little value I turn to COMC, but that service has become a total disaster. I remember back in the late nineties dot com bubble there was a company that launched a web site where you could mail in your music CDs and they would list them on the site and sold them to other buyers and deposited your money in an account. Same deal as COMC. I remember reading about this in a business class and how this company went bankrupt, and why it was a terrible idea to deal with all that inventory and why Ebay succeeded because it didn't actually have to handle people's inventory.

That was nearly a quarter century ago, and COMC is doing the same business model in 2021. It was fine when sports cards were a niche, but now it feels that literally everyone is involved and treating it like its the stock market. None of these people were around for the early nineties bust period, and they will go bust at some point.

I think their business model doesn't work. I hate that, because I love their service so much. All I want to do is just wrap up my cards in a pretty bow and mail it to COMC and let them take care of the rest. Instead, they suck, so I have to deal with Ebay, which also sucks, but at least I get the money more quickly.

I can't remember where I saw this, but I also remember watching a show about sports cards somewhere. It featured an elderly man who sold his tobacco card collection that he had since he was a kid. The collection was priceless, as he had kept the cards in wonderful condition since his youth. Yet, even though he was getting paid an enormous amount for the cards, he was upset. He didn't want to part with the cards, but he felt compelled to because its, well, money. He would rather the cards never went up in value and he could simply enjoy his funny little hobby without worrying about resale value.

I get it now. I totally get it. If I sell all of my cards, or most of them anyway, it is hard to justify hopping back into the hobby because everything is overpriced. I'm basically cashing out, with the hopes of coming back in a few years when things aren't insane. I don't even want to. I really want to collect cards. But we are in a serious global pandemic that is worse than anything we've seen since the Second World War. It's foolish not to take the money, because I don't know what tomorrow will bring. Money pays the rent; Joe Carter doesn't.

I may quit collecting altogether. But when I mean altogether, I mean sports cards. I'll find another collecting hobby.

Do you collect anything else besides sports cards? Are you collecting other things besides cards now that the hobby has become so expensive?

Do you feel like quitting the hobby?

Tuesday 13 April 2021

I stepped away from the hobby for six months and I thought card prices might be cheaper now. Oh Boy.

I haven't posted on this blog since June. I stepped away for few weeks last summer because it felt like prices in the hobby were becoming outrageous. I remember being a kid and collecting kids when the hobby's bubble burst in the early nineties. I didn't want to spend a ton of money on stuff that would end up being junk in a few months time. I figured I would just wait until prices crashed and then I could reenter the hobby and enjoy it more cheaply. I figured this pricing bubble couldn't last to 2021.

The other issue for me was that I was really annoyed with COMC. Being in Canada, being cards on Ebay is expensive because most sellers are in the US and shipping from the US to Canada is ridiculous. Usually I filter Ebay listing to only include Canadian sellers, but there is a lot less available that way. It ends up being easier to buy cards on COMC slowly over time and build up a large package, and mail it to myself. However, COMC's customer service got so far behind the demand for their cards that their site became impossible to use. You could buy and sell cards on the site almost like stocks, but you could not ship to yourself, or ship cards in, without an enormous amount of turnaround time.

I was also using COMC as a mailbox service for my Ebay purchases, since accumulating multiple purchases from Ebay and packaging as a single shipment is cheaper for cross border shipping. COMC, however, actually lost one of my cards shipped from an Ebay seller, even though the tracking showed it arrived at COMC. It took them absolutely ages to list the card on the site. I became so frustrated with their service, and lack of response via email, that I did a port sale on my cards and cashed out.

The most frustrating part was that I really like COMC. It's so disappointing when a business you want to support and enjoy using gives such terrible service. I understand they were overwhelmed, but they simply stopped answering phone calls and responding to emails. It would have been so easy for them to outsource customer service to a third-party agency, or to simply hire more people trained to answer phones and emails. They chose the less expensive route of simply not responding to customers, and their reputation has suffered.

Anyway, I don't want to harp on COMC (they seem to be in an even worse position with their customer service now compared to last summer, if that's even possible). My point is that I figured card prices would decline by the time 2021 rolled around. I figured wrong. I was back checking out card pricing the other week. I can't believe how expensive things have become. I'm in Toronto, and we are in the longest lockdown in North America. The entire province of Ontario was just locked down last week, which means non-essential retail goods are unavailable for purchase in-person. Besides groceries and drugs, everything is online. There is literally nowhere to buy boxes that are cheaper. Blasters are even going for twice their value. Blasters! I mean, blaster boxes are usually just packs of base cards aimed at children. That's why Walmart sells them in the toys section. Sometimes you do get something of value out of them, but it's crazy how expensive they have become.

My interest in the hobby was resuscitated when I sold a couple of valuable cards a few weeks ago. I had listed both my Gretzky OPC PSA 1 rookie and my Gretzky Black Diamond hard signed autograph numbered to /10 on Ebay about a year ago. I listed both of them for an outrageous price, about three times what I paid for them. I figured no one in their right mind would buy them for that price. I didn't really want to sell either card, but it didn't hurt to list them for free on Ebay just to see what the value was. If some crazy person came along and bought them for three times what I did, then I guess it would be worth parting. But I figured that would never happen.

I actually forgot I had the cards listed. After I stopped blogging last summer and lost interest in the hobby, the cards sat on Ebay for months. At Christmas, however, the Gretzky rookie sold for its BIN. I couldn't believe it! I kinda loved the card, as much as a grown man can love a hockey card, and I wasn't sure if I wanted to sell it even for triple what I had paid. But I figured this is an asset bubble and I may as well take advantage. I still have this feeling that card prices will crash at some point in the future and I can always buy the card back at a cheaper price later on. Besides, I still had the Gretzky autograph.

Not so fast! A couple of weeks ago, someone hit the BIN on the autograph. I sold that card for triple what I had paid, too. So, after shipping it out, I started reading hobby blogs and forums and checking out prices. Pricing is even worse now than when I stepped away last summer. Even low end stuff is so expensive I don't think I can participate at all, besides selling what I already own.

I have a blaster box of 2020 Topps Archive. It's unopened, and I received it as a Christmas gift. I simply put it away, intending to open it when I had a slow afternoon one day, and I forgot about it until I sold that Gretzky autograph. I decided to look up how much an unopened blaster of 2020 Archives is going for on Ebay. It's like $35 or so (which in Canadian money is like $50). This is worth more than anything I will pull from the box if I opened it.

So, should I open it? Should I just list it on Ebay and sell it? I love opening cards, but I'm not building that set or anything. Chances are the cards I get will be worthless, and won't be a sensible addition to my collection. On the other hand, it's simply fun to open packs and it was a gift for me to enjoy. Yet, if I did sell it, I could use the money and buy a card or two that I would enjoy and would fit into my collection. I'm also to the point where I want to collect unopened product now instead of the actual cards.

What a dilemma.