Trading Cards Had A Sell By Date No One Was Ready For
Sky Box’ nonsports cards are rapidly growing in popularity. In fact, some 50% of its product line is now in the nonsports category–including a set of 85 Aladdin cards, which will be introduced in April. And the firm’s Star Trek and Marvel Series cards are currently hot-sellers.
While baseball remains No. 1 in sports trading cards, basketball has shown tremendous growth in recent years. “Basketball was the shining star of the industry in 1992, due in large part to the hoopla surrounding the Olympic Dream Team,” says an Action Packed spokeswoman. “Conversely, football took a hit last year, as NFL Properties’ lawsuit against the Professional Football Players Association resulted in many star players not being available.”
Action Packed focuses on football and auto racing cards, as well as Hall of Fame baseball and basketball series. Its latest basketball series, which features a 42-card set honoring past greats, includes a popular five-card subset: “Larry Bird, Hall of Fame Hopeful.” The small, high-end firm also donates braille sports cards to 400 schools.
Action Packed’s trading cards sell for as little as 35 cents for its regular wax packs to $2.90 for sets from its embossed premium collection.
Topps Co. is also getting more heavily involved in nonsports cards, especially movie-related lines. A company spokesman says that sales of these cards mirror the success of particular films. Although Topps’ Rockateer card line was a “disappointment,” he explains, its Home Alone and Home Alone II lines sold out rapidly. Topps hopes that the soon-to-be released Jurassic Park will be this spring’s blockbuster, as the firm is scheduled to release two Jurassic Park trading card lines in mid-April.
The manufacturer reported a loss for the fourth quarter of 1992, leading it to reduce the number of cards it will produce in 1993–not, however, the number of lines. Topps is now gearing its efforts more toward consumers who buy cards for enjoyment rather than investment.
“More and more collectors aren’t even opening their card sets,” notes the company spokesman. “They’re just putting them aside to check the value in 10 years. That’s fine, but for manufacturers and retailers it’s important to bear in mind that the key to sustained success is to emphasize the enjoyment, the sheer fun of card collection.”
Baseball is still Topps best-selling line, and on March 1 the firm came out with its Baseball Series II. It also recently released its Topps Kids for New Collectors line, which sells for 35 cents a pack.
After 1992’s slowdown, Fleer decided to gear its production strictly to consumer demand. Its Ultra Series II Hockey has just been released, and its Ultra Series I Baseball and Ultra Series II Basketball will both be out by the end of March.
Fleer uses TV, radio and print ads to support its lines, which are represented by star athletes in each sport. The spokesmen include Larry Johnson (Charlotte Hornets) and Scotty Pippin (Chicago Bulls) in basketball, Tom Glavine (Atlanta Braves) and Dennis Eckersly (Oakland A’s) in baseball, and Jeremy Roenick (Chicago Black Hawks) in hockey.
The athletes used in Fleer’s print ads also make personal appearances. A “career highlight” subset of 10 to 12 cards, some autographed, are randomly inserted in card packs. Fleer’s Ultra line has been upgraded with ultraviolet coating and gold and silver foil stamping.
ProSet went into Chapter 11 bankruptcy in August 1992, due to overproduction and excessive returns. “We were behind in royalty payments to licensers and have worked to correct that,” says marketing director Eric Herskind. “By limiting the number of products we offer and focusing on hockey, football and auto racing, we are marketing through print advertising in hobby specific publications.”
Megacards of Iowa has produced its unique Conlon Collection for the third straight year. Charles Conlon was a baseball photographer from 1905 through 1942, and Megacards obtained 8,000 of his negatives and is using them for trading cards. Three hundred-and-thirty Conlon cards are issued each year.
According to a company spokeswoman, the 1993 Conlon Collection will feature Texas Rangers star pitcher Nolan Ryan matched up with eight legendary hurlers.
The most unique card in the Ryan subset (No. 934) shows him “shaking hands” with Hall of Fame pitcher Walter Johnson. Although Johnson died two months before Ryan was born, an original photograph from the Conlon collection of Johnson shaking hands with Lou Gehrig was used as the basis for the card. Through computer technology, the card now depicts the two great fastballers shaking hands.
A gold-bordered premium version of the photograph will be distributed at Jack Eckerd Corp. stores. Halley says that incorporating modern players into the Conlon set connects young collectors with the history of the game.
Thrifty Corp. senior vice president of marketing and merchandising Gary Rocheleau says that some of the chain’s stores, particularly in high-crime areas, have had trouble with theft of trading cards. “These cards are glitzy, small and easy to swipe,” he says.
To combat that problem, Thrifty now merchandises the cards in the candy section in the front of its stores, which means higher visibility–to customers and personnel.
An Arbor Drugs spokesman agrees that the trading card market cooled off in 1992. “A few years ago people were literally waiting at the door for shipments to arrive,” he says. “Although the category is not nearly as demand-driven now, it has stabilized and is holding its own.”
All product movement at Arbor is tracked by a point-of-sale scanning system. If a certain series of trading cards is selling very well, it pops up immediately in the central computer system. “We can immediately see which cards are doing well and replenish them,” says the spokesman.
According to a CVS spokesman, River Group’s Elvis trading cards are doing particularly well at that drug chain. The cards are highlighted in CVS circulars, which customers pick up as they enter the stores, and are merchandised with others at the checkstands.
Charles Mandel, the president of Sports Design, which manufactures such trading card accessories as sheets, binders and card collector kits, concurs.
“For the past 10 years we had a beautiful growth curve,” he says. “The cards themselves were becoming works of art–the quality of the pictures, the ink, card stocks, everything. But with licensing agents allowing so many sets, there became a danger of so much product that for a time no one knew what was worthy of collecting.