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?