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Sell Special Cards on COMC
Topps lost money on the now defunct eTopps. I actually thought it was a good idea at the time, but the expenses behind running an operation like that has got to be pricey. One solution to some of the costs is if Topps just had to print the cards and let someone else handle the shipping and secondary market.

It just so happens a company exists that could do all those things for Topps or any other card company. COMC.  Produce some special cards, create a company account on COMC and sell the cards. Once someone buys one of the cards, COMC then handles the rest. It beats the card company setting up their own eBay account (like Topps Vault) because they would then have to handle all the shipping, buyer questions, returns, etc.
COMC eTopps Card 
I guess it's not as easy as it would seem. COMC typically handles cards on consignment from collectors and dealers. Card companies creating cards and essentially "setting their own price" might rub some the wrong way. I can see that argument. But I'm also on the side that wonders why most new cards have to come out of a pack. Topps essentially set their own price on eTopps cards. Panini sold Orange Pylon Prizm Parallels on their own site via auction, but didn't just start the cards at $0.99 cents. You can see here what those Prizm Pylon cards sold for.

Another negative factor besides potential collector angst is backlash from the almighty wholesale distributors. These distributors faithfully buy these card companies products, even the crappy ones. Without the distribution network, card companies would become much more expensive to operate. In a word, it's called inventory. Topps might be able to scratch their back at the same time. Create a small set of cards that are serial numbered #/100. Sell half on COMC and use the rest as box toppers, wrapper redemptions, or some other promotion that aides the distributor.

Selling cards like this would get hot player cards on the market a little quicker. When Yasiel Puig got off this summer........... Topps had one card of his on the market. Ouch. It took some time for a set to be released that had his card in it. I hate the over dilution of cards being flooded onto the market as much as the next guy. But one insert card of Puig on the market when he pops is a joke. Topps could make A SMALL PRINT RUN of Puig cards on demand and get them into the market quick. It might even create buzz and hype for the next set to come out that will have more Puig cards.

Cold Call Group Breakers & Card Store Owners
I had a job managing about 50 nurses who I would find in-home health care work. Insurance companies and the Government would pay $28-250 an hour to take care of a patient and I would find a nurse who could hopefully work for $14.00 an hour.  It's a real lucrative business because insurance companies and the Government are willing to pay out the nose. 

One day my boss came and told me to call all 50 of my nurses to "check in" and see how things were going. I wanted to strangle him.  It would take a whole day or more to do that. Reluctantly I put in the calls and it was in fact a great idea. I was able to find out some of my nurses were willing to work more, which meant more money for me. I also found out some of my nurses needed common medical items, like gloves, which meant I could get out of the office and go deliver them to a clients house. Getting out of the office was like found money.

Call On Your Phone
So hey, card companies, give your group breakers and card store owners a call. Don't call them with the hopes of stealing them away from your distributors by signing them up to a direct account. That's the beauty of putting in a call to them. It's not even a direct sales call. You can just get their feel for what the market is for your stuff. Some group breakers have been opening a wide array of product for many years, they can give you insight into what works and what doesn't. And guess what? By reaching out to them I can guarantee some will feel greater loyalty toward your company and order more product. I'd be willing to bet on that. A card company putting in such calls would also be helping their main customer, the wholesale distributor. Group breakers and card store owners might even tell their distributor sales rep, "Oh hey, Joe Blow at Panini called me the other day. Super nice guy we talked a lot about their NFL cards. You know, tell you what, add a box of Prizm to my order."

Card companies will tell you they already do this. Problem is, they only involve the people who, in all honestly, would be buying their product regardless. Examples of this are the Topps Five Star Club, Panini's Hobby Roundtable and Upper Deck Diamond Dealers. I get setting some of your biggest collectors and dealers apart and give them special treatment. No problem with that. But give smaller business owners an opportunity to reach that next level by giving them a vote of confidence. It wouldn't take that much time. Lord knows there are not that many card shops still around. Many group breakers don't have business phone numbers but you can probably easily find their email address.

It's hard running your own small business. Especially when you are buying and re-selling product. To make any money in this industry you have to push heavy volume. That's a lot of work! Card companies should reach out to as many dealers as possible. Make them feel welcome. I don't think it would be that hard.
Create Arizona Fall League Sets
I am biased toward the Arizona Fall League. I look forward to going to Scottsdale each year to watch AFL games like a little kid waits for Christmas. The games are sparsely attended despite some great MLB prospects on display. In fact, most of the people who go to the games are after the autographs. Many AFL autograph seekers don't even stay and watch the game. They come early and don't just want one Kris Bryant autograph, they want him to sign all 10 of their cards. Most autograph seekers at the AFL are very well organized, with elaborate binders holding cards, and some have a supply of bats that could stock a little league team. Are some of them going to sell these autographs? Sure. But you'd be surprised how many are just there to keep every autograph they get. Believe me, I've tried to buy autographs from people there (because I know they are real) and they are unwilling to sell even the scrubby players.
Kris Bryant Chicago Cubs
If Topps created Arizona Fall League sets they would sell. People wouldn't want to buy just 1 set, they'd want to buy a ton of them because they are trying to get 15 Byron Buxton autographs. Sets like Topps Heritage Minor League may not appeal to many collectors, but autograph seekers love the base cards because they are perfect for getting autographs on. Plain Jane Bowman cards are also very good for autographs. Topps could easily produce some real simple prospect cards for the Arizona Fall League without hurting the value of their very important Bowman brands.  

There are some logistical problems with creating the sets. The rosters for the AFL gets released toward the end of August, with games starting around October 8-10. It gives Topps a month long window to create cards, but one of the cool things about the AFL is the prospects wear their affiliations Major League Uniform. The players also don a special New Era hat depending what team they are on (Scottsdale Scorpions for example). It's pretty awesome seeing Kris Bryant wear a Cubs uniform and it would be even more awesome on cardboard. One way around this is just create a card similar to Bowman or Topps Heritage Minor League using pictures already available. They wouldn't be as nice, but people would still buy them.

Another factor is that the rosters for the teams can change. Some players get hurt or their organization changes it's mind from August-October and they end up not playing during AFL games. Some pitchers don't get named to a roster until September. Guys get hurt and get replaced. It should be noted that Topps does advertise the Bowman brand at the Arizona Fall League. During each game the PA announcer does a commercial read about Bowman and there is a Bowman banner in some stadiums. Topps sponsored the 2013 Bowman Hitting Challenge, which was a real fun event, hopefully they do that again in future years. I was watching the hitting challenge with a noted sports card researcher, and we found it amazing that you couldn't buy any cards at the games. Seems like it would be an ideal place. There would be some challenges to creating Fall League sets, but I think there would be interest.

You Can't be Sued for Being a Jerk
By and large the hobby "media" is soft. What they do an effective job at is copy and pasting sell sheet information onto their websites.  That's not a knock, it's actually a valuable resource. There are many websites that provide pertinent information for collectors. Very few of them though want to rock the boat.  Look at the state of the sports card industry the last 20 years. Card store owners are going broke by the day. Companies like Panini and Topps churn out so much product that it dilutes the value of cards already on the market. Redemption cards..... that expire....... and sticker autographs fill boxes that cost $150+ each. Yet every set that comes out there are some that will sing it's praises. Sometimes it appears nobody is looking out for the long term health of this industry, only seeking that next quick check. I visit card shops around the U.S. that are going broke, but all I can find on the internet are eBay's most watched cards.  

Some members of the hobby media get free boxes from companies. Which I guess would make it all but impossible for the person getting a free pull on a slot machine to rip into a card company. That's understandable. It's essentially hush money. Websites and blogs do help pump dollars into the hobby community. In reality, sports card sites probably don't get enough credit for that. Companies like Upper Deck, Panini and Topps have a very weak presence on the internet so it serves their interest to have others pump their product without fear of anything bad slipping out.  Negative hobby stories are usually relegated to a forum or kept private.   

Sports TV rights have soared since the 1990's. Apparel makers like Nike and New Era rake in the money producing licensed jerseys, hats, t-shirts and other fan items. The value of sports franchises have skyrocketed the last 20 years. Player salaries have exploded. The sports card market has tanked. That's not good folks. The popularity of sports has risen since the 1990's, but the popularity of sports cards has been crippled. Wake the F up. Something isn't right. The business model behind selling these cards isn't right. It's flawed. Small business owners are going broke trying to sell these cards. Distributors milk group breakers and shop owners for every penny they can. So much crappy product comes out each week. The margin is SUPER SLIM on all this stuff. From Panini Flawless to Topps Series 1, the margin is a joke. The secondary price of 2012-13 Panini Flawless boxes went up after release in part because distributors held back inventory. When a product gets hot distributors squeeze dealers with initial pre-sale allocations and then step on their neck by jacking up the price after release when it's time to re-order.  It's hard to make money buying and re-selling in the card game. "Media members" get free boxes of cards while shop owners can't pay their bills.  Shhhhhhhhhhhhh.

Raffle Sports Cards Using Fantasy Sports
It was kind of funny to see a multitude of online group breakers raffle off items for sale. There are many reasons why running a raffle is illegal, but there are some easy ways around it. One way to essentially raffle off cards is conduct a fantasy sports challenge between the people who pay for a spot. The fantasy game can even be set up to last only one day. Most people think they are good at fantasy sports so I could see interest in it. There are many daily fantasy sports sites that will let you set up one day leagues yourself for free. You could probably even handle the scoring yourself by creating your own daily fantasy salaries or copying them off of one of the popular daily sites. Most daily fantasy sites will let you download their salaries into excel.

One downside is the instantaneous nature of the current raffle system. It's quick and easy to get 10 people to pay and then run a raffle. By running a fantasy sports game, you have to get these people to fill out a lineup and wait for the games to complete. If you do group breaks it takes a lot of time to sort, pack and ship certain products. Running fantasy sports raffles on the side might just add too much work to the equation.
Ryan T. @SportsCardNews
42 N. Sutter Street
Suite 313
Stockton, CA 95202

It's a really bad idea to open a sports card store. No really, it is. The idea of running a store like that might be appealing to the mind. You get to hang out all day talking sports, be your own boss, make your own decisions, and become a small business owner. The American Dream. I'd generously say that 95% of people who start a sports card store will fail. Will end up losing money. I owned a store from 2006-2008. I worry that the stress of running a losing business at that time took years off my life. I wrote about some of my failures in this February 2013 article

There are people who can probably make a sports card store work as a small business. For those brave souls out there willing to give it a try, here are some thoughts and things to consider.

Diversify Your Income
Easier said than done. Especially when spending full time running a store. Trust me, you need to find multiple ways to get a check. You have to diversify the items you carry in your store. Here are some quotes from current card store owners I've visited during 2013.
  • Iowa Store Owner: "Magic The Gathering keeps the doors open, but I love talking sports."
  • Illinois Store Owner: "Yu-Gi-Oh keeps the doors open."
  • Arizona Store Owner: "You can't make money selling these new (sports card) boxes. It's not a business, it's a hobby."
  • California Store Owner: "The margin is so slim with sports cards that you have to do other things like eBay, Magic The Gathering, Comics, lot's of things."
  • Montana Store Owner: "We do most of our business in coins, it's what we are known for, but the cards are fun and brings in a different crowd."
Magic the Gathering

It would be very wise of you to become familiar with Magic the Gathering, Yu-Gi-Oh, Pokemon and other forms of gaming cards before starting your store. Do at least a month of research and understand what makes these cards popular. You can get these products from the same people you buy your sports cards from, so it's not like you have to set up a bunch of different accounts with distributors. The gaming cards could become over 50% of your total business, so it would be wise to really understand the market for those type of cards.

The ideal situation is have some other "source" of income and not just diversify the products you sell in your store. Like have a website you make money on. Marry someone who makes a ton of money. Organize your own sports card shows and charge dealers to set up tables. Run Magic The Gathering Tournaments. Be a winning black jack or poker player. Do group breaks online. You get the idea.

I'd actually advise finding a different source of income in some other niche or field. Have a source of income completely unrelated to sports cards and your store. Think about the other things in your life that you are passionate and knowledgeable about. There might be a way to turn that into a small (or big) check per month.

Location, Location, Location
You could get the best retail location in New York City and go broke running a sports card store. You'd spend too much money. Counter that with opening a store in a small town for $300 a month in rent. You might be able to make that work, but you'll never be popping champagne. It's a delicate balance. Paying top dollar for a prime location can break your bank quick. There are reasons why people don't start sports card stores. You typically go broke doing it. You can speed up that process having a few slow months and have $2,500 a month in overhead..... before you buy any inventory.
Big City Blues 
I don't really know how or where to pick a location for a sports card store. I failed. I was in for about $1,150 a month for rent and utilities. Not a huge number, but I also had to live somewhere, eat, pay many other bills, so you can see where it adds up quick. If I had to do it over again I would test out my business at a local flea market or event where I could sell my stuff for a cheap table fee. Get some inventory and give it a test drive for at least a month or more. Get a feel for the area and think long and hard if I could make it work.

Sign a short term lease. Like maximum 1 year. Don't let the landlord sucker you into more years. Retail space is plentiful in so many areas across the U.S. That market has tanked hard. People are begging people to rent retail space in most locations. You have leverage being the business owner in this kind of retail property environment, so don't be afraid to bargain on price either.

Go CHEAP Young Man
Your bills are going to pile up fast. Rent, insurance, utilities, internet access in your store, lunch money everyday, inventory, display cabinets, taxes, on and on. It's not a good idea to open a sports card store, so if you are going to gamble, don't risk too much money.

Go Cheap on Your Initial Inventory
Be careful with the inventory you buy to initially stock your brand new store. You really need to get a feel for what people in your local area will buy. You may love Panini Flawless, Topps Triple Threads and big hit products. But your customers may like cheap Topps sets like Series 1, Archives and Allen & Ginter. Do you have a Magic the Gathering or Yu-Gi-Oh crowd? Can you sell board games? Can you sell fan items like keychains, bumper stickers, patches, etc? Save some ammo for your first re-order. I guarantee you will regret buying something from your initial spree to fill your store.

Don't Blow Money On Traditional Advertising
There will be many suckers who come into your store to try and sell you on advertising. They range from radio, niche magazines, newspapers, Yellow Pages, sports teams, etc. Don't waste your time with these people. You'll add another $50-100 a month to your bills even going cheap with the ads. Just hustle and you'll get people to come into your store for little to no money.
No Ads
Buy some cheap paper and print up your own flyers. Talk to people, network, make friends. Most of your business will come from your own local city unless you open up shop in a tourist area. You can get involved in the community without spending money. I'd rather coach a little league team than put my business name on the jersey. I'd rather schmooze up the local newspaper writer and have him write a story about me for free. You can get into the Yellow Pages for free. Nobody listens to the radio, and the shows that are successful on radio you don't have the kind of money to buy ads on. I'd rather create my own podcast/radio show before buying a paid spot on a local station. You can create your own podcast for as low as $5 a month. Believe me, you can get people to listen to your shows with little to no effort.

Use the Internet
When I had my store, the last thing I wanted to do when I got home was build an eCommerce site or post on MySpace (stop laughing this was in 2006).  Some businesses use free platforms like Facebook as their solution to reaching customers on the web. Services like WordPress and Blogger make it very simple and easy to create a passable web presence today. I sold a lot on eBay during the years I had my store, several thousand dollars worth of stuff per month. I probably would have created my own web store, but the eCommerce solutions at that time were weak and are now outdated.  Today you can find many powerful and easy to use eCommerce solutions to create your own web store without too much technical skills.

If you have a store, there are several things you can do to help your web presence for little to no money.

Don't pay anyone to design your FIRST website.  I am being serious. If you know a friend who can help you for free, go for it. Email me and I will give you free advice. Most people who design websites outsource the work to non-U.S. countries. If something goes wrong or you get hacked you'll have no idea what to do. These website guys will also try to lock you into a bad hosting plan as well. Take the time and learn how to do it yourself. Once you've done it and feel comfortable, you can then pay for additional sites or work done on your existing site. Learn how to set up a simple website. That can end up being very valuable for you even if you flunk at your sports card store. 
Random Picture
Wordpress, Blogger, Joomla or something else?
If you want to post simple daily or weekly content, go with WordPress. It's super easy. Try not to run too many plugins and the ones you do use keep them up to date. If you want just a landing or splash page, where you will post your store information and not much else, you can get away with using Blogger. Using Blogger you'll even be able to re-direct a .com domain to a Google server without paying a hosting bill (saving you at least $5-10 a month).

I wouldn't advise going with Joomla, although it is my favorite platform to use. It's a little more complex and difficult to get started. Sports Card Radio is set up on Joomla. You can customize your web pages in more creative ways on Joomla, but if you just want a simple turn key option go with WordPress or Blogger. I think it's much easier to make your website look "nice" on WP or Blogger, which is important because your site will be a first impression for customers who initially find you online.

There are a lot of help forums and free information about how to set up websites. If you are ambitious enough to start your own store you can set up your own website without any help or prior skills. Search Google or WordPress help forums if you get stuck or frustrated. It's not as hard as it looks, you just have to be patient and open up your mind to learning something new.
Get your customers' email address.
Just trust me. Find a way to do it even if it costs you money. This should be obvious how important this is. Companies like Groupon exist because of email marketing. Think about what you can do by having your customers email address. Build a database and value that thing like gold.
Money Sign 

You need to go through an online mail service program or your emails will probably be flagged for spam. Browse around and find the one for you, Mail Chimp, Constant Contact, there are other options as well for around $15-30 a month until you build up a huge database of email addresses.

Today, I would have an iPad in my shop, prominently displayed in the store where customers could enter their email address for my store's mailing list. I'm dumb that I didn't do that in 2006, as email marketing has existed since the start of the internet.

What's Up With Twitter?
If you have a store you should have a Twitter account but don't let it suck your time away. You won't get a huge amount of business off Twitter unless a bunch of people in your local area use it, or you have an online store you can promote. If Twitter was around when I had my store I would probably post pictures of nice cards that got pulled from the shop. It can also be a source of information at times, but again, don't waste too much time building a following.

If you notice a lot of your customers using Twitter you might be able to create a Twitter coupon or promotion, but don't look at Twitter as a revenue maker for you.

What's Up With Zuckerberg's Facebook?
I don't spend a lot of time on Facebook, but I could see it being more successful for driving business than Twitter. For one, you aren't limited to 140 characters and more of your customers will be using Facebook. If I had a store today I would try and post at least a couple things a week about my shop on Facebook and attempt to build a following.

Social Media Tends to be a Fad
Don't spend too much time wasting hours on Facebook and Twitter. Honestly, you should spend more time building out your own website or email list if you enjoy using those social media platforms. Facebook and Twitter could die off just as MySpace and AOL instant messenger did. Be quick to adapt if a new trend arises. Look at other outlets like Instagram (owned by Facebook) and Pinterest (more for female niches) to see if you can use those to your advantage. I can't stress this enough, don't waste too much time with social media unless you intend to start an eCommerce store.  You can still build a decent following on social media sites without spending too much time on them. You can leverage your email list and websites to gain likes and followers.

Side Note

Use Card Shop Finder
Card Shop Finder will put information about your shop for free on their website. I have the Card Shop Finder app on my phone and I use it all the time when traveling. I never would have found the shops in Iowa, Montana, Illinois, Nebraska, Arizona and California without the app and website. I use the app, go to the store, and start spending money. It's foolish if you are a card store and you don't get listed on Card Shop Finder. Did I add that it's all for free? This is what I am talking about "hustling". There are ways to promote yourself for free and get real results.
Card Shop Finder
Low Ball Everyone Who Tries To Sell You Something
Some days you will get more people who come into your store trying to sell you 1990's cards then you will customers. If you see something you might want to buy (WHICH IS ALMOST NEVER THE CASE), don't pay anywhere close to what it's worth. Most of these people coming into your store need quick cash and will take anything they can get. Literally try and insult them with a low ball offer. If they don't want to sell to you at your price, let them walk out the door..... they'll probably be back later ready to take the deal.
1990 Topps Frank Thomas RC 

Don't Expect Any Help
There aren't going to be a whole lot of people who will help you on your journey. Don't expect a phone call from Panini, Topps or Upper Deck. Why those companies don't reach out to the businesses who are selling their product more, I have no idea. Those companies usually try and sucker you into a situation where you have to buy a certain amount of product to get love from them. Buying direct from the manufacture is a good example. So is Panini's Hobby Roundtable. Why don't they have an employee who cold calls card stores everyday regardless how many orders they've placed?

The honest truth that you will come to find out is that Panini, Topps and Upper Deck's real customer is the wholesale distributor. Those are the guys who get comped trips to the NFL Rookie Premiere, VIP Party's, free autograph stuff and more. Panini, Topps and Upper Deck all have the same business model. Sell through the product to the distributor. They don't care how your sales are going.

Topps has many younger employees who probably have no clue how difficult it would be to run a sports card store. Panini has made efforts to help certain hobby stores, but they are also guilty of fluffing distributors like no other. Upper Deck is a real small company now and will probably be sold, pieced off, or go broke in the next few years. Those things take time to unravel.

If you have questions about starting a sports card store you can email me, I am willing to help you for free: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


It's Ok to Fail
I actually did do a lot of the tips I suggested when I had my store. A very small percentage of my sales were from sports cards. I had some other small sources of income not related to the store.  I went cheap on a lot of inventory but also blew off a lot of money too.

If you fail at running your own sports card store, don't be afraid to call it quits and throw in the towel. Perhaps you are just not cut out for that type of business, but still want to be your own boss. Figure out why you didn't succeed at running your store. Where could you have saved money or spent more time on? Is there another area of the sports card industry that you could be successful at in some way?

Dust yourself off and come up with another idea. Always remember to diversify your income no matter what type of business you run. Don't ever put all your chips in one basket.


Ryan T. @SportsCardNews

Other Sports Card Store Stuff

Down Arrows on Topps Since 2007
When Madison Dearborn Partners purchased Topps in 2007 for $385 million it was seen as a solid deal for the private equity firm. That was before the financial collapse of 2008.  Some financial experts suggest Topps is apart of a larger fund that has performed poorly for Dearborn.  It's believed the private equity firm has made severe cuts to Topps' operating costs in an attempt to unlock what value the company has.

Up Arrows on COMC
One misconception about COMC, the online card consignment service, is that the revenue the company makes is tied solely to selling as many cards as possible.  Wrong. I'd pay several thousand a month for access to their database of photos and price information. Why? I could make several thousand more using the data.  Believe it or not, providing sports card information like pricing, checklists, photos, can be a lucrative venture.  But the database of pricing and photos could be used by big pocket online retailers.  Someone like Amazon, eBay, or Beckett Marketplace sellers would love access to perfect front and back scans of millions of trading cards.  I see cha-ching in the future.

A Flawless Peach
Panini Flawless Basketball, which is pre-selling for around $1,400 a box on the retail level, is scheduled to release in early October. It's a very limited product that might be hard to get even at the wholesale level. Rumors popped up that a certain sports card wholesale distributor got more supply of Flawless then rival distributors.  The reason being, the distributor getting the supply had conceptually come up with the idea for the set. Sounds a bit bizarre. Panini and the distributor in question both deny the rumor. A competing distributor also dismissed the idea saying, "I've never heard of anything like that."

College Cards
The push to pay college athletes is at an all time high. It feels like a majority of people believe it's okay to pay athletes competing in college sports.  While it may never happen, or be many years away, the ramifications of paying college athletes could spill over to trading cards. Creating cards of current college stars seems like a turn-key way for the NCAA to finance payments to players. If someone like Topps or Panini could create a card of a player like Johnny Manziel while still playing at Texas A&M..... well, I can see the dollar signs.

Former Upper Deck Employees Still Strong
There is a community of former Upper Deck employees who still keep in touch and remember the old days. This included a recent outing to a San Diego Padres Game. Many former Upper Deck employees have very fond memories of the glory days at the company. It's doubtful that Upper Deck will ever be able to rekindle the magic that made their cards so popular. They've lost so many talented employees and business deals that the mountain might just be too high to climb.

Upper Deck Employee Outing

Dipping in Chrome
Topps released Topps Chrome & Bowman Chrome Baseball within two days of each other in late September. It's a questionable move because the sets have a similar following and price point. One wholesale distributor said someone at Topps "messed up and will pay for it." Another distributor said "It's tough, but the content is different."  The content being the Bowman Chrome set features mostly cards of minor league prospects. Prospect cards can not be inserted into the Topps Chrome set. I'm setting the over/under of the employee's age at Topps who made the mistake at 29.5.
Sign of the Times

The L.A. Times had a nice article about a semi-struggling card shop that has break nights at his store in Spokane Valley, Washington.  It hit a little close to home as I was once a struggling card shop owner. Several things struck me about the article. It describes a customer buying a box of cards and getting a Robert Griffin III autograph/jersey card. The box cost $140. There was excitement in the shop because it was thought the customer did well on his gamble. But after going through the article the customer ended up selling the hits from the box for $105. The Griffin III he supposedly sold for $90, a Ronnie Hillman $10, and a Matt Kalil $5.  Spending $140 to get $105 back won't keep customers coming back for more. Even if he kept the cards for his collection, $140 is a fair amount of money for most people in the U.S.  How many people can blow off $140 every other week on sports cards?

One of the reader comments to the article summed what what could become of the sports card industry if things remain bleak: "Reminds me of Beanie Babies."

Ryan can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or @SportsCardNews


Collectors started to receive their Gold Baseballs in late May - early June 2014. The first one listed for sale on eBay was priced at $5,000 or best offer.

2012 Topps Gold Baseball Mays/Aaron/Griffey

Letter of Authenticity


This letter certifies that this MLB Baseball was Autographed by Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, and Ken Griffey Jr,.

An official representative of The Topps Company, Inc. witnessed the signing of this MLB Baseball.

This letter - with the below signature and holographic sticker - certifies the authenticity of Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, and Ken Griffey Jr. signatures on this MLB Baseball.

This letter coincides with the Serial Number on the ball:

The Topps Company, Inc.

2012 Topps Letter of Authenticity


The Hype - January 2012

When the calendar rolls around to February each year, baseball fans can start to sniff spring training. It might be cold outside, but thoughts of sunshine, green grass and heading out to the ballpark are shared by many. Topps will wet the baseball appetite by releasing it's first baseball card product of the new year around this time. It's one of the best days of the year for me because it seems like hobby forums and sports card tweeters come to life to give an opinion on the new set.

In 2012, Topps was very active in promoting the Series 1 set that released on February 1st. There were special release day Gold Rush Rip Parties at select hobby stores. The hobby stores who did the Rip Parties got a special "Gold Rush Kit" with pins, stickers, balloons and other items. 10 of the hobby store Gold Rush Kits had a special Gold Rush Ticket that was to be redeemed for a 24K gold infused baseball autographed by Ken Griffey Jr., Willie Mays and Hank Aaron. In addition, inside hobby packs of 2012 Series 1 were 10 randomly inserted Gold Tickets for the same ball.

The Gold Ticket - February 2012

Hobby stores and collectors began finding the Gold Tickets. Some hobby stores gave the redemption ticket away to customers. Many Gold Tickets were listed on eBay with the prices ranging from $1,750-$3,395. It's got to be exiting pulling a redemption like this. In fact, on the back of the card, Topps suggests the lucky person should "Tweet Topps and include a picture of yourself with the front of your winning ticket".

The tweeting wasn't really needed to get the ball. All the person with the Gold Ticket had to do was:
Follow detailed instructions on ticket back, send ticket in, wait patiently for 8-12 weeks and your prize ball will arrive! 
2012 Topps Series 1 Gold Ticket 
Photo: Beckett Article  

When 8-12 Weeks turns into 52 Weeks - January 2013

As 2012 rolled on Topps released many more baseball products and if you weren't one of those with the lucky Gold Ticket, you could probably care less about the ball. The people waiting for the Gold Ticket redemption though, started to wonder what was going on.  They waited the 8-12 weeks but no ball showed up. When the clock struck 2013 many were going on a full year waiting for the Griffey Jr/Mays/Aaron ball.  Topps isn't the easiest company to get a hold of in regards to customer service. I don't think it's a reach to say that. While it is possible to get someone on the phone during east coast business hours, the wait time can be long and many people don't have time to call as they are more than likely working themselves. Emailing Topps customer support can be very spotty at best. Topps has various social media accounts like Twitter and Facebook, but in general, the employees in charge of running those accounts are not involved in the customer service side of the business. While these employees can be of assistance at times, it could take many tweets and Facebook messages to get a response.

In January 2013, on sports card forum Freedom Cardboard a collector recounted a story he heard from a hobby shop owner who had a Gold Ticket and also knew of another customer who had two Gold Tickets. While it's unclear which person got fed up with waiting for the ball to get signed, apparently as a replacement for the ball, Topps sent the Gold Ticket holder "cases" of 2012 Topps Archives Baseball. Archives is a mid-low end product that appeals to collectors who like the card designs from the 1970's and 1980's. Many posters on the Freedom Cardboard forum, a well respected community of collectors, didn't seem to think that was a fair replacement for the Griffey Jr/Mays/Aaron ball.

On January 17, 2013 a collector who was waiting on the ball emailed me about his frustration. Despite numerous attempts to contact Topps customer support, through phone calls and the internet, the collector's questions were falling on deaf ears. At one point the collector even mailed a letter to the Topps office in hopes of a response only to be let down once again. On the back of the Griffey Jr/Mays/Aaron ball Gold Ticket it says to: "Smile, celebrate, make some noise!!" This collector wasn't smiling as he was going on 50 weeks waiting for the ball to appear on his doorstep. 
Topps Has Balls - February 2013

Through some prodding of fellow collectors, and maybe a little jab from myself, a (now former) employee of Topps uncovered a picture of the ball. It had been freshly signed by Willie Mays and the hopes of Griffey Jr and Hank Aaron signatures awaited.
2012 Topps Series 1 Gold Ball Willie Mays 
Hank & Kenny out to Lunch.... Kinda - May 2013

I continued to correspond with the collector who emailed me from January. In hopes of getting some news on the ball I put in a call to Topps to see what was going on. Indeed the balls had been signed by Mays but Griffey Jr and Aaron had yet to sign them. There are only a few decision makers at Topps and generally speaking they aren't the ones picking up the phone. It's best to treat the few Topps customer service reps they have with respect as they can give you some information on your redemption or issue.

One interesting thing of note is that Hank Aaron, Ken Griffey Jr and Willie Mays have "live" autographs available on the market that were redemptions in the original product in 2012. Meaning some redemptions for those three players have been fulfilled. Unfortunately Topps has not been able to get all three to sign the 2012 Topps "Gold Ticket" 24K Baseball. Many collectors experience this frustration with other cards and players. At times collectors can be waiting for a redemption, but the athlete has signed cards that are going into new products. Topps doesn't fulfill it's past obligations before cranking out new sets. 

Take the Summer Off - June - August 2013

Topps had a staffing shakeup in the summer of 2013 that saw several employees leave the company. On the customer service side, the impact appeared massive. Topps began telling customers that redemptions would take an extra 5-6 weeks to be fulfilled because of the staffing need. Many collectors were already waiting over a year for some redemptions so the 5-6 week message was perplexing. Communication coming out of Topps is poor. While they have a strong following of people on some social media sites, they generally use those for promotional purposes only. Getting nuts & bolts information out of Topps can be like trying to crack a safe. If you have an issue with Topps it can be difficult to know what to do. The customer service employees only have limited information on items waiting to be redeemed. The customer service employees can't get Hank and Griffey to sign the ball. There are employees at Topps who do have that obligation and job title to acquire autographs. Mays, Griffey and Aaron have signed cards for Topps since 2012. There might be a somewhat good reason why the ball hasn't been signed but Topps has not communicated with it's customers what that reason might be. 

Around this time period Topps sent out, what they said were 10,000 "replacement autographs" to customers waiting for redemption cards. Doc Gooden, Gary Carter and other mid-tier athlete sticker autograph cards were sent out in mass. Some collectors got the better end of the deal, happy to get something for a card they were waiting on.  Others were disappointed and wanted the item they were originally promised. Collectors did not have a choice to get their cards redeemed for the replacement autographs. Topps just sent out the replacement cards without first contacting the customer.

Not every collector waiting for a redemption card got one of these replacement autographs. Thousands of collectors are still waiting for cards to be redeemed by Topps, including those waiting for the Griffey Jr/Mays/Aaron ball.

2013 Topps Gary Carter Replacement

We Have No Balls - September 2013

I put in another fresh call to Topps in early September to see if there was any update on the 24K ball. Perhaps Aaron or Griffey had signed it and there would be good news to share with the collector who had been emailing me. Unfortunately there was no news on the ball. In a few months it will be 2 years since many collectors got the Gold Ticket.  It's got to be incredibly frustrating waiting for Topps to come through on their end. What a shame that in nearly 2 years only Willie Mays has signed the ball.

It doesn't give collectors or those involved in the industry a very good feeling about the employee talent level at Topps. And I'm not talking about the people who pick up the phone. They do their job as well as they can. It's the upper level management and decision makers at Topps who don't empower their lower level employees to help customers. The decision makers at Topps also don't have a grasp of the costly nature of redemption cards. Having a "backlog" of redemptions (liabilities) is not a good way to run a business. That is why Topps sent out the 10,000 replacement redemption cards. They knew it was dumb on many levels to have those cards waiting to be redeemed. It was probably more of a business move than a customer service gesture. Funny thing is, 2013 Topps products are filled with redemption cards. The problem hasn't been fixed or solved for the end customer. In another couple years they may have to do the same thing and issue a bunch of other replacement cards if decision makers continue their laziness. I wouldn't advise anyone to buy a Topps redemption card. They'll just send you whatever they see fit in a couple years. 

Ryan - @SportsCardNews