Full disclosure: Feb. 4 is my 39th birthday. I'm a child of the 80s who grew up playing games and collecting baseball cards. When I got married and my parents made me either trash or take my belongings out of the house, I sadly pitched more than 100 pounds of cards; I weighed them because counting would have taken days.
Don't worry. I went through them and kept the good ones. I planned on having kids one day and my sons now enjoy looking at (NOT TOUCHING) some of the cards I've kept that were special from growing up.
And my sons love collecting now, too.
Earlier this week TOPPS made their annually celebrated announcement of the release of their new Series I set of baseball cards. After thousands of fans voted, Atlanta outfielder Ronald Acuña Jr., the reigning National League Rookie of the Year, was named as Card No. 1 for 2019.
I spoke with Dan Kinton, VP Marketing and Sales, and Jeremy Fullerton, Brand Manager, from TOPPS and learned a lot about how baseball card collecting is evolving, and where TOPPS is headed in 2019 and beyond.
Over the past two years one of the innovative approaches to the collecting market that I've enjoyed a great deal is the creation of TOPPS Now, a real-time card product based in the company's e-commerce platform that celebrates incredible moments around the game in real-time. TOPPS creates cards the day something happens, and they're available online for 24 hours - that's it. After one day on the market the cards are no longer in production.
This is a unique proposition for the company because they only have to print as many as are ordered.
It's an even more intriguing proposition for collectors who are increasingly searching for rare cards and specialty memorabilia. There might only be 75 cards of a specific moment ever made, so buyers of that TOPPS Now card own a piece of history that can't be duplicated.
What makes the 2019 set special is the year. TOPPS and MLB are celebrating 150 years of professional baseball, and TOPPS has put together some incredible cards to celebrate the most historic moments and players in the game.
But looking ahead, TOPPS is encouraged that their buyers continue to get younger. One of the great changes TOPPS has made is changing what they include on the back of the baseball card. Where we used to find cartoons and anecdotes about a player's home town or early career we now find the Twitter and Instagram handles of the players and their WAR. Advanced stats and social media are an important part of TOPPS evolving their product to reflect the game today, and they're doing a great job of embracing their market.
According to TOPPS, the younger fans engaging their product mirrors the game itself getting younger at the major league level. Two years ago, Aaron Judge emerged as a face of baseball; the industry followed and Judge merch became hot. Last year, Acuña, Juan Soto, Shohei Ohtani and Gleyber Torres were a few of the young stars to blew up - and the industry followed once again.
As the brand looks ahead to 2019, the new names on the market are at the top of prospect ranking lists. Vladimir Guerrero, Jr., Fernando Tatís, Jr., and Eloy Jiménez are the guys everyone wants to see - but TOPPS, like fans, will have to wait for them to get called up.
And TOPPS is waiting for Manny Machado and Bryce Harper to sign, too.
Their Series II product will be where fans can find cards of these elite rookies and some veterans who are signing late in the offseason for the first time. Those packs will undoubtedly fly off shelves (my kids will be first in line) and collectors will be watching the TOPPS Now circuit for some individual releases that we have to have.
Images courtesy TOPPS