I think after digesting the news over the past couple of days (and also having my Google account be inaccessible for the past 24 hours), I’ve come up with some comments regarding the new exclusivity that Topps has been granted for the 2010 season.
Most of the responses I have been reading have been negative, but I almost feel like this will be good for most baseball card collectors…in the short term. Innovation is a great buzz word that is thrown around, when really in this hobby, I think it means, ideas that collectors like. There are a lot of innovative (see: creative) ideas that fall by the wayside in short order because they are not initially well-received by collectors. It may be because the ideas are not that intelligent (albeit innovative) or the timing is off for their introduction.
With only one company, innovation will not cease. Topps will still be looking for the ever-important dollar of the existing collectors while still drawing in new collectors, just as they were before. Instead, they will have 100% of the licensed baseball card collecting hobby pie. Ideas will continue to flow, even though a lot of the successful ideas tend to be drawn from past successes; the pool of potential ideamakers is also smaller. Ideas will go only as far as the constraints let them go (rookie card designation and NMT 20% retired players in a set).
Brand identity should be strengthened and there should be an opportunity to revamp some products (the Bowman line mostly, Finest could use some adjustment, the high end). The sets released for 2010 should be Topps, Topps Chrome, Topps Heritage, Allen and Ginter, Bowman Chrome (skip regular Bowman, it’s done), Bowman Draft Chrome, Finest, a version of Stadium Club, Triple Threads (because it sells, no matter how bad it is), a completely changed Sterling, and one-two change-up products to try out new ideas. That should probably cover most price points and market segments. The lineup could use some fleshing out or cutting back depending on your point of view.
In terms of confusion in the marketplace, there really isn’t much for the informed/experienced collector. Most of this type of collector know what type of set they are looking for before purchasing and have done at least gathered some reconnaissance information about the card brand. The new collector would be overwhelmed by the number of choices available in the marketplace. Of course, hasn’t this been the case since at least 1993 or 1994? It became worse in the period of 1998-2001 (remember, there were at least 5 companies then), and really reached a peak in 2005 when MLB slashed and burned all the companies except Topps and Upper Deck.
And now we are left with just Topps.