Fans have been collecting baseball cards, in one form or another, for more than a century. Early black-and-white pieces included in tobacco packs, intended for adults (although kids likely found them just as attractive). Baseball cards boomed from the 1950s to the 1980s, until market saturation by multiple card companies caused a rapid decline in interest.
But the digital age has presented a new challenge to companies like TOPPS and Upper Deck, which left the baseball business a few years back when TOPPS gained the exclusive MLB rights. Digital collecting has achieved a modicum of success, but many fans still enjoy the feel of the actual card in their hands.
Enter TOPPS NOW, launched by the company for baseball in April following similar runs with partners like the UFC, MLS and WWE. The premise is to capture memorable moments as they happen, one A.L. and one N.L. per day, with a limited purchase run of 24 hours, creating both urgency—once they’re gone, they’re gone—and scarcity collectors crave. The results have exceeded expectations, according to TOPPS officials, with more than 300,000 cards sold to date.
“We have been able to use TOPPS NOW to provide fans with a great emotional keepsake while the memory is top of mind in a long baseball season,” said Jeff Heckman, Director, New Product Development & eCommerce Marketplace, TOPPS.
“By furnishing fans with a real-time, state of the art platform for actual cards, we have been able to both create a new market without alienating the traditional collector. The best thing is we have just scratched the surface with this technology, and have even more unique things planned for the playoffs and World Series, when fandom is at its highest.”
Heckman sees the program re-engaging thousands of fans, especially Millennials, into the hobby. Some of the great moments commemorated by TOPPS NOW in 2016 include:
- N.Y. Mets’ Bartolo Colon’s first career home run, May 7 vs. San Diego
- Miami Marlins’ Ichiro Suzuki’s 3,000th Major League hit, August 7 vs. Colorado
- N.Y. Yankees’ Aaron Judge & Tyler Austin’s back-to-back HRs in first MLB at bats, August 13 vs. Tampa Bay
- Boston Red Sox’s David Ortiz’s 36th HR to set record for most HRs in a final season, September 20 vs. Baltimore
To date, there have been nearly 500 moments highlighted. Suzuki’s 3000th hit holds the single-day sales record of more than 11,550 sold, with Colon’s 8,000 second and the Judge/Austin dual homers third at around 5,000. The cards sell for $9.99 each at Topps.com, delivered within a few days.
Topps also revealed that as of September 26, all 30 teams have received more than one card, with the Chicago Cubs (38 cards), Boston Red Sox (36), and the New York Yankees (28) having the most. The top players have been Ortiz with eight cards, and Ichiro and Chicago’s Kris Bryant with six each. TOPPS has also indicated that is has also sold over 1,000 sets of Chicago Cubs postseason sets on preorder, without a game being played yet.