In the world before Twitter, message boards, and ESPN.com there existed a form of currency amongst the youth of America. Emblazoned with the images of heroic sports figures, paper trading cards kept the stock markets of the cafeteria and the playground running at a bullish pace.
In 2013, it appears that the sports collectible economy is one financial institution that has not waivered in these tough times. Despite a wave of digital sports immersion that brings the fandom experience to life in ways that were once thought impossible, companies like Topps and Steiner Sports Memorabilia stand by their products’ ability to fly off shelves.
“There’s something magical about opening that pack and trading your cards,” says Topps representative Mark Sapir. “We look at digital (entertainment) as competition, but our product is still relevant and vibrant.”
Topps recently released their 2013 crop of Baseball Series 1 cards. The cards, which “mark the unofficial beginning of a brand new season,” celebrate a range of players that spans from legends to some of the MLB’s newest faces.
To kick off this year’s collection, Sapir and other Topps brass unveiled “the largest baseball card in history” last month in Lakeland Florida. The card depicted Detroit’s Prince Fielder and was displayed on a small field near the Tigers’ spring training home.
“Generally, to many collectors and fans, sports memorabilia is essential because it inspires them and brings joy to them,” said Brandon Steiner, CEO of Steiner Sports Memorabilia.
Steiner has spent his life building an empire upon artifacts of professional sports history. His success in the industry has allowed him to own Yankee Stadium.
Unlike Topps, Steiner Sports is known for larger and more expensive slices of the pro sports experience; a signed NFL regulation football instead of a drugstore pack of playing cards. But even Steiner himself admits that the current economic climate warrants slight adjustments.
“The economy has been hard on many Americans, so we've responded by creating a unique array of collectibles that ranges in price from expensive to very, very reasonable,” comments Steiner. “We have sold over $25 million of game used dirt product and $1 million in game used grass product. These are fantastic products that literally allow consumers to take the game home with them for around $25.”
But while die-hard fanatics may be willing to fork over some pocket change for shavings from the Yankee Stadium pitcher’s mound, there are new (free) ways to interact with sports heroes that were not available less than 10 years ago.
Neither Topps nor Steiner appears rattled by social media and the invisible wall that it often breaks down between the hallowed locker room and the fan’s armchair.
“We realize that more and more people are consuming things digitally, “ said Sapir before suggesting that Topps upcoming digital ventures will offer their own bridge into the world of athletes.
That bridge will compete with the Twitter accounts of local players like Steve Weatherford and former Giant Martellus Bennett. Both players are known for actively and happily engaging fans directly via the social media tool. However, Steiner doesn’t see a competition, he sees a tag-team opportunity.
“Social media and collectibles bring fans closer to the game and they feed off each other in that way,” said Steiner. “There’s a nice synergy there. I have urged many young athletes to be trained and proficient in all social media tools to help build their brand and also differentiate themselves from others.”
While the landscape of the industry may have changed, it appears that there will always be fans (young and old) who are willing to keep the trading floors of sports collectibles bustling.
– Article by Dan Orlando of XLJournal.
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