(“Collectors Corner” by Rich Mueller, Managing Editor of Sports Collectors Daily) – The generations that blamed their mothers for throwing out their baseball card collections are now either closing in on retirement or are already there. Anyone who grew up in the late-1960s and beyond came of age when the world discovered that there were people who were willing to pay money for baseball cards and there were actually a lot of adults who bought them, sold them and traded them. The number of landfills that have welcomed old cardboard over the last 35 years has dropped significantly. Mickey Mantle wound up there. Mickey Morandini did not.
Topps’ Million Card Giveaway is sort of built around the “my mom threw out my baseball cards” theme. In fact, they’ve got subsets in the 2010 issue built to look like those vintage cards so many kids lost to spring cleaning. So even though there probably aren’t a huge number of working people whose mothers actually did dump their cards anymore, it’s a catchy marketing idea and one that has generated a significant amount of publicity for the hobby. It’s sort of a free lottery ticket inside each pack—one you really don’t have to pay for and one that sports fans find infinitely more interesting than a scratch-off game. Most of the time you get Mickey Morandini. You could, though, get a Mantle. Or a Musial. Or a Maris.
Topps found a way to use baseball card history to drive product sales (and I’m guessing they’re way up). The genius behind our hobby is that it connects past and present—just like sports themselves. We watch sports but through old sports cards or memorabilia, we save a tangible memory from the history we all love. Over the last couple of years, there have been countless mainstream media stories decreeing “the death of the baseball card hobby”. They talk with sad sack dealers who don’t have a clue how to get customers and 30-somethings who are sad their Griffey rookies won’t pay for their kids’ education.
Topps, though, turned the tables. They took the best of what their product has—the old cards that are worth something and bring back great memories—and attached them to their current product. The hope is that someone gets hooked by the possibility of finding a code that unlocks a nice vintage card and decides to get back into collecting because of the experience—even if they got a 1987 common. They put the fun back in it and that’s why people buy baseball cards. For two bucks you get a product, a game with a little mystery and an online experience.
Using your strengths to buck perceived trends is a huge part of marketing these days. Topps knows exactly what its brand stands for and they started 2010 with a bang. It’s a good lesson for anyone in the hobby.