Change is a pain in the neck. Most everybody resists change, and God knows institutions resist it with an even stronger collective zeal than might be the case with any one individual.
Change is coming in this hobby of ours, what with a shrinking and convulsing economy that has already and will certainly continue to exert downward pressure on anything that might be regarded as frivolous. Much as I like ’em, sports cards are certainly all of that.
The card companies are going to have to find innovative ways to maintain revenue streams, and it says here that one way would be a greater utilization of reprinted cards. That obviously means different things if you’re Topps or Upper Deck, but there should be potential there for both behemoths to sell cards to the modern generation and also to the baby boomers who launched the hobby in the first place.
I am convinced that the efficacy of such an idea hinges upon MLB finding a way to get an umbrella licensing arrangement with retired players. Topps hasn’t reprinted one of its vintage sets in 14 years, presumably because of the double-edged dilemma of getting licensing for so many long-retired players and the wrangling that surrounds the top guys, like Mickey Mantle, Ted Williams, Willie Mays, Henry Aaron and Roberto Clemente.
I suspect it’s the former problem that poses the greatest obstacles. Before there was a union, players signed individual contracts with Topps in an egalitarian system that gave everybody the same amount of royalty money. With the union, the monies are likewise divvied up on a similarly socialistic platform, but when dealing with long-retired guys, it’s probably tough to convince Hank Aaron that he and Hank Foiles should be on equal footing.
Still, you have to think that for an area not already trampled to death with expensive autographs, jersey swatches, bat chips, etc., there ought to be some potential in tapping into that nostalgic vein.
For one thing, the scale is likely much more attractive today than it would have been 14 years ago, relatively speaking. The new-card hobby was so much larger at that time that you would think trying such a project in the new, smaller-scale version would make it more enticing.
I think I once calculated in a column that Topps produced enough of the 1954 Reprint Set to account for almost 200,000 sets or so. Even at that big number, boxes of the 1954 Reprints are tough to find in 2008, and pretty expensive when you do, certainly above their original retail price.
Even more striking (pardon the pun), the two Ted Williams cards and the ersatz 1954 Topps Mickey Mantle that were missing from the Topps Reprint but picked up by Upper Deck in a kind of unique, hybrid licensing deal, are even tougher to find.
Buying an unopened box or the whole 1954 Reprint set might set you back anywhere from $75 to $125; picking up just those three single cards would like add more than another $175 to your price tag.
I know Upper Deck would be faced with a greater challenge, but I still think it would be cool to charge your designers with trying to replicate the tenor of the times.
For Topps, it’s obviously a lot simpler (assuming the licensing problem could be solved). Anybody else out there would like to see a reprint set of 1956 Topps?