The Decline of the Baseball Card Industry

JeffContributor IMarch 1, 2009

The sport of baseball has never been more popular or widely-marketed, and yet, the baseball card industry suffers more and more each day.

Old timers will tell you how baseball cards were a staple of their childhood. The same cannot be said for today's youth. I have always been an avid baseball card collector, but in today's world, this places me in the minority.

The baseball card industry is struggling to regain relevance in the world of 21st century technology. Why is this?

Alan Narz, owner of Big League Cards, offers an explanation.

"Everything got too complicated. There was just too much of everything. No one could keep up with it and there was no commonality for collectors. It needs to be simple again so people will want to build (complete) sets and stay excited about it."

Sports cards revenues peaked in 1991 at $1.2 billion. Since then, it has dropped to under $300 million.

Many claim the reason to be the arrival of Upper Deck in 1989, which started selling packs for an unprecedented rate of $1. The cards featured improved photography and graphics, but without the gum.

Other new companies followed in Upper Deck's footsteps, targeting their product to nostalgic baby-boomers instead of children. Then, as the 1994 strike approached, the bubble burst.

"A proliferation of card purveyors, combined with the 1994 baseball strike and surging popularity of video games, depressed sales," says Erik Spanberg, who has done extensive research on the subject.

Evan Kaplan, the category director of trading cards and collectibles at the Major League Baseball Players Association, is trying to reverse this trend.

"There were a number of issues that plagued us during the past 10 years and now the intent is to market and promote the card better and attract kids. We are looking to work very closely with Topps and Upper Deck to improve in those areas."

How will Kaplan go about this?

He envisions lower-priced cards and better distribution. He wants more drugstores, convenience stores, and delis selling cards. He also wants to improve display areas at bigger retailers (Wal-Mart, Target).

In my opinion, the biggest thing the baseball card industry needs to improve on is the extensive inserts that have become a nuisance to collectors.

It seems that in every pack of five cards, there is at least one card that is either an advertisement, a checklist, or a filler that has nothing to do with an actual player. This has made it harder (and much more expensive) to complete sets in recent years.

There is hope, however. Michael Eisner purchased Topps a few years ago and has promised improvements to his product. There has also been an increase in baseball card blogs and sites—there are literally hundreds of them now.

If the industry decreases prices, increases awareness, and makes less inserts, I am confident that baseball card collecting will become a more popular pasttime for kids.

(Quotes and information can be credited to csmonitor.com). 

Read more on my blog, The Bronx Insider (bronxinsider.vox.com)


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