Wednesday, January 5, 2022

Oh what a year - A room full of elephants that we should probably talk about

Oh hello there, yep it's me again.  I've been sitting in the cold dark Alaskan winter contemplating life, the universe, and well, everything.  It's been a crazy couple years hasn't it?  I apologize for the lack of content.  I really just haven't felt like sitting down to write blog posts.  And the few times I have sat down to do it the post turns into a bitch session and I've been making a very concerted effort to be a positive force in the hobby and the universe, so a lot of those posts go unpublished or just get deleted.  

But here we are, a new year and there's lots to talk about.  Over the last two year's we've seen a huge gain in popularity in the trading card hobby.  Whether it was people stuck at home during the pandemic rekindling their passion for a hobby, new people finding the hobby, or people realizing just how lucrative it can be to sell and resell sport cards to make a buck for better or worse the last couple years has seen a huge shift in the hobby landscape with hints of the 90s boom.

Let's talk about what's been happening.

1. Retail trading cards become the hot new thing.  It wasn't that long ago I can remember reports that retail outlets like Walmart and Target were considering not stocking sports cards anymore because they weren't selling.  And let's be honest in the hobby retail product was a joke if you were looking for high end hits.  But retail was also a nice cheap alternative to pricy hobby boxes and packs if you were a set builder.  Now we've got fist fights breaking out in stores and Target actually halting sales of the products due to safety concerns.  People were camping out in front of stores waiting for restocks and then clearing out shelves.  Stores started putting limits on the number of boxes you could buy at one time and moved cards behind counters and registers.  Then of course a lot of this product ended up on the secondary market on eBay and being sold on Twitter accounts and the like at huge mark ups.  I personally was lucky I was able to find enough Topps Baseball to put most of my base sets together, but even up here in Alaska the shelves were usually bare.  

2. Card grading companies got swamped!!  I'm not a guy who sends in cards to get graded, but I can respect and understand those that do and the value of having a supposedly impartial 3nd party service grade a card to establish and then preserve condition.  But wow I think even the grading card companies were a little surprised by just what happened.  And I'm talking mainly about the big three, Beckett (BGS), PSA, and SGC. The companies at one time had to halt submissions and then jacked prices up to a point that it really limited what was worth send in to get graded.  Not all of these companies reacted the same, but all got blindsided with an unprecedented amount of demand while trying to tackle pandemic restrictions and dealing with employee safety.  

3. COMC.  Oh COMC.  I'm sure if you're reading this blog you know what and how COMC does what they do.  And the unique service COMC offers to the hobby can be seen by just how many growing pains the company has bumbled and stumbled their way through and survived. The first real challenge came after COMC and Beckett parted ways.  COMC had a deal with Beckett for use of their checklists for listing purposes, but COMC also used Becketts pricing information for help inform both sellers and buyers what their cards were worth.  It was kind of a golden time for the hobby because you could see the Beckett value for cards without having to pay for the service.  This is likely why the two parted ways year's ago.  But that led to a scramble for COMC to not only produce it's own checklists, but to document that production. And they did that through it's crowd sourced challenges.  This led to a long wait time for processing.  The second big hiccup I can remember is the first time COMC upgrade facilities.  Both processing and shipping times got pretty extreme, but not terrible.  But the latest hurdle that COMC had to overcome, and looks like they finally have, was the pandemic. Which saw a perfect storm for the company that was trying to move to another larger facility, coupled with operating in an area of the country with some of the most strict pandemic lock down orders, while dealing with an unprecedent surge in card submissions, sales, and shipping requests.  I made the mistake of placing an order in Jan of 2021, it took 8 months for my cards to ship!

4.  And finally the newest and biggest elephant in the room.  Fanatics.  I think we (the hobby, the royal I) and probably Topps, were really blindsided when the MLB, MLBPA, and Fanatics announced their exclusive trading card deal.  And then shortly after announcing they had acquired rights to the NFLPA and NBA and NBAPA.  I don't think anybody was that surprised with Fanatic announced it had bought Topps' trading card business.  It seemed pretty obvious that Fanatics would acquire one of the trading card companies.  In 2009, it was a big shock to see Panini, a little sticker company from Italy, scoop up the exclusive NBA license.  At least they had some experience with sports cards and stickers, but it wasn't that surprising when they bought Donruss.  And in buying Donruss Panini gained instant US brand recognition and arguably one of the deepest brand catalogues in the hobby.  So Fanatics, with no trading card experience would likely have to acquire one of the big three remaining companies.   I had joked that Upper Deck should be their goal and then they would have licenses for all 4 US major sports leagues. But Topps seemed like the obvious and likely choice.  

Since the MLB announcement there have been lots of uncertainty with what was going to happen in the hobby.  I'm not saying I'm happy that Topps will continue their baseball exclusivity into the foreseeable future, but I have happy that I'll get to put my Topps flagship set together and I am looking forward to Topps flagship football again.  What will happen to Panini and Upper Deck with this new juggernaut of Fanatics/Topps?  Who knows?  I'm a little anxious, but also very excited for the what might happen in the trading card arena.  And if it all goes to hell we still have over 100 years of vintage cards to fall back on.