Sunday, January 24, 2016

1996 Select Football Box Break

Nothing adds some excitement to two football games where your team isn't playing than an old school box break.  I snagged a box of 1996 Select football a few months back at a garage sale.  For $10, it was worth the trip down memory lane.  

It was a pretty solid year for collecting - rookies of Eddie George, Marvin Harrison, Keshawn Johnson.  Of course I don't think any of those guys have held up their collector base, but that's just the nature of the beast in collecting these days.

The box didn't have too much pizazz - I think the set only has 3 inserts, only one of which is supposed to fall in each box.

 But that's alright.  That's how collecting used to be, and I can't say I mind.
 The box held two Artist's Proof cards, and while the small set means almost all the players had at least reached starter status, Tim Brown and Kerry Collins were two pulls I was happy with.  Particularly Collins, if only because of how much I loved the Panthers' wild uniforms.
 But the base cards offered quite a bit themselves.  The combo of the larger photo and head shot made for some interesting cards.  90's fashion left some real gems on cardboard.
 And the action photography is top notch.
 Did I mention the posed photos?
 Or the fact that the all-time rushing leader appears to have also been a character in Mortal Kombat?
 Speaking of characters...

The box was a lot of fun to open.  And even without any true "hits" I was still eagerly pulling back each card to see what the next revealed.  And fortunately all the cards came out in excellent condition
 Oh, and the one insert?  This one couldn't have worked out any better.  My favorite player as a kid.  Better yet, it's a new Slash card for my collection.

Overall, the break was certainly worth the $10.  I'm not sure if I completed a full set - I know there were quite a few doubles.  And some of the cards will undoubtedly end up headed out in the mail as TTM requests.

Now let's just hope the games turn out as well as the box did.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Behind the Curtain: Are Low-End Products Still Viable?

With the rage that has been created by Dynasty and Strata recently, I've been thinking more and more about where I, as a low end collector almost exclusively, fit into the hobby as it stands today.  This post is a repost from some research I put together a couple years ago.  There's a lot to the conversation - a shrinking collector base with a thirst for the "big hit," costs associated with mono-manufacturer licensing, and a distribution network that includes fewer and fewer brick and mortar stores.  But I felt like this was at least one possible thread to unravel in the conversation, and look forward to hearing everyone's thoughts.


There's no doubt that the card industry has seen radical change over the past 30 years.  I'm not even talking about the more micro changes - the shifts from set building to inserts to the big hits.  Let's just talk about the industry as a whole and its players.  Forbes cites industry sales at $1.2 billion in 1991, having fallen all the way to just $200 million in 2008.  Presumably current numbers may be even lower.  Estimates put annual card production as high as 80 billion cards in the early 90's.  While Topps seems to have nearly a billion parallels in Flagship this year, I still don't think the numbers climb quite that high.  And who is making the cards has changed.  Gone are the days when a fly by night company could essentially open shop on a rich investor's whim, get approval for a license, and start printing cards within a matter of months.  Longtime players like Fleer and Donruss are gone or printing logoless cards, while the Pinnacle's, Pacific's, and Pro Set's of the world have faded from collector's memories.

So what does the hobby look like?  I think we all come across the stories every few months that get picked up by ABC News or Forbes on how the industry is crumbling, nobody collects cards, and those cases of 1988 Topps you were hoarding are completely worthless now.  Is it reactionary?  Sure.  Is it largely true?  Well, yeah.  Go to a card show, and just people watch for a few minutes.  You might see a few kids there with a parent or grandparent.  You'll probably see the typical local flippers and dealers, trying to scoop up any and every card they can turn for an extra buck or two - the same guys who have been prowling the same mall shows since the "good old days" of the show circuit.  But you'll probably also notice that there aren't...really all that many people to watch.  The mall show that used to have 20 dealers on the top and bottom level might now have a small circle of tables, compressing in on themselves for safety like a circle of Conestoga wagons trying to weather an Indian attack.

But even for someone who feels like he is pretty in tune with the modern hobby, I wonder just how deep those changes are felt.  How much has the hobby fundamentally shifted, in hard, concrete numbers.  I have suspicions, I have hunches, but I don't have hard numbers.  I'm not expecting to do any in depth, hard hitting investigative reporting here.  This isn't Watergate.  But I would like to see what a modern product looks like once you peel back the layers of sticker autographs, foil board, and patch chunks. 

The goal here is twofold: to better understand the composition of modern products and why hit-driven products are dominating the marketplace; and secondly to see if it would even be possible for a low end, base driven product to be profitable in today's marketplace.

To do this, I'll be looking at three products from three vastly different eras in the hobby: a modern mid-range product, a modern example of a low end release, and a classic lower tier product.  These three products were chosen because they had readily available data of odds for numbered cards that could be extrapolated into overall print runs. I wanted a low end product from the tail end of the days when you could find a card show in a local VFW every weekend and a card shop in every town.  2013 Chrome had information available on dealer direct cost and odds data.  Opening Day seems to be representative of the one product still produced at a low price point, and has seen relative success in recent years, but may or may not be operating as a loss leader to engage younger consumers.

I think the numbers I calculated are correct, or at least within the ballpark of actual production runs.  But I'm an English major here guys, and numbers are my mortal enemy.  If something looks off, please correct me, so these calculations can be as accurate as possible. 

I'll be breaking down each product individually in its own post, and then providing analysis at the end.  If you're not interested in the nitty gritty, skip down to the bottom.  And after years of being drilled to show my math by math teachers, I have included the calculations in case anyone cares to double check my arithmetic. 

2013 Topps Chrome

Auto relic base cards - Hobby exclusives #'d out of 10, 30 subjects.  1:3715 packs
***I've seen it commonly reported that Topps withholds 6% of the production run for replacements and God knows what else, so I removed 6% of possible inserts from these calculations

Roughly 1,047,630 hobby packs would be produced, equivalent to 43,650 hobby boxes, or 3,637 hobby cases.
Black refractors were inserted at 1:55 hobby packs, or 1:425 retail packs.  Based on the number of hobby packs, roughly 19048 black refractors (of 20680 inserted across the production run) were inserted into hobby packs.  The remaining cards would have been in retail packs. 

This means roughly 693,600 retail packs of 2013 Topps Chrome were produced.  Those cards would be split across retail boxes and blasters.

Cards are sold in 4 card packs, with the majority of packs containing 3 base cards and one insert/refractor/autograph.  That would mean base cards would have a print run of between 23,500 and 24,000 copies per card.

Packs carried a $3 SRP, making the full SRP of a box $72.  Dealer direct cost, as reported online, was $53.15 per box, or $637.80 per case. 

So that's what we know.  Now things get a little more tricky.

Topps has actually maintained a surprisingly consistent price point on Chrome, with 4 card packs retailing for $3 back to the late 90's.  Presumably that means that the per sheet printing costs of Chrome has actually gone down since the technology was debuted in 1996. 

2013's product featured two autographs per Hobby box, made up almost exclusively of rookie autographs.  It appears that most of these players are paid between $1.50-$3 per autograph.  For comparison, a legal dispute records basketball stars Derrick Rose ($25), Tracy McGrady ($50), Russell Westbook ($12) being paid more per autograph.  These scales would presumably translate to baseball, while superstars like Jeter, Trout, or Hank Aaron would presumably be closer to the $100 mark.

In short, the hits are probably costing Topps an average of about $5-10 per box in Chrome.

Let's extrapolate that to a product like Topps Tier One, which retails for around $1,200 a case and holds 2 autos per box.  The quality of player increases slightly, but there are still plenty of Adam Eaton's and Brent Morel's in there.  I'd guess an average autograph cost would increase to around $10 per signature, with the case hit costing between $50-100.

This print run for TC seems to be in line with their Bowman Chrome press runs, and I'd imagine is typical of a midrange product with a relatively weak retail market.  While the cost of the technology has almost certainly gone down from when it was first introduced, Chrome cards still presumably cost more to print than lesser stock cards.  Factoring in printing costs of base cards, parallels, and inserts, plus the known dealer direct cost per box, I'd imagine Topps can make a box of cards for around $20.  Of course there are overhead costs, design (limited in this case, since TC is mostly just a reprint of Flagship cards), and marketing (which never seems to be more than an ad or two in Beckett). 

It is worth noting that adjusting for inflation, that $3 pack of 1998 Topps Chrome would be up to $4.38 today.  That would boost the box cost up to about $105.

There's certainly money to be made, but it does seem pretty interesting that the "value" collectors pull from the box actually often seems to line up with what Topps put into the box.  Know how you're pissed you only got $20 worth of cards from a $75 box?  Well, that's apparently about what went into it.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Hidden Gems

Minor league team sets are always some of my favorite items to add to my collection.  The sets typically have 25-30+ cards in them, and while the top prospects are usually given top billing on the top of the team bags or snap cases, they usually hold all kinds of treasures inside.

 After all, where else in the baseball card universe can you get such gems as this Gary Green?  Nothing like middle aged men in tight pants stretching it out.
 Or crustaches.  Lots and lots of crustaches.
 And former big leaguers.
 Oh, and current big leaguers.

Wait, what?
 I picked up the 2006 and 2007 Lynchburg team sets.  The Hillcats were the Pirates A-ball affiliate for over a decade.  But the late 00's were some really, really, really lean years for the Pirates farm system.  So I wasn't expecting much out of the lot.  One set had a Nyjer Morgan card on top.  Not exactly setting up anything too spectacular.

So I was pretty surprised to see, at the very end of the team set, nestled in with the athletic trainer and pitching coach, local favorite Neil Walker.  Right after him, a pre(first)-breakout Steve Pearce.  A Ken Griffey San Bernardino card they are not, but they were a nice surprise in a couple team sets that were made almost entirely of guys who never reached AA.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Here We Go

I missed out on all but the first few minutes of the KC/Pats game yesterday since Kate had her roller derby banquet last night.  I'm bummed the Chiefs lost and happy the Cardinals won, so it's a bit of a wash.

After the most improbable of endings to the Steelers Wild Card game last week, this is a game that they realistically shouldn't have even made it to.
 Not that I'm complaining.
 I'll gladly take another game, even if the odds of winning aren't leaning our way.
 Still, I'll gladly take either "one last" scenario today.  If the Steelers lose, it was still a solid showing in a year where injuries (Bengal induced injuries, I might add) took a huge toll on all of the team's stars.
 And if they do improbably pull out a win, it will be a little bittersweet, since it would presumably be the last game for Peyton Manning.  While Manning annoyed the hell out of me for most of his career (I was a Ryan Leaf fan, which took me about a decade to get over), in his final years I've come to respect the hell out of his ability and intellect on the field.
 I honestly don't know that we will ever see another player who has been able to control and dictate a game quite the way he has.  And even if his body can't do the things his brain calls for anymore, I'm always a sucker for a good sunset story.
 So either way, I'm looking forward to watching the rest of this postseason.  Just please, please, please...somebody, anybody, knock off the damn Patriots.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Working Late, Shopping Late

Typically I wait until new purchases are in hand before they make it onto the blog.  I guess there's something pseudo ritualistic about opening the package, scanning the card, writing up the post, etc.  Showing off the new additions is central to the blog community.

But I'm jumping the gun a bit on this one.  Not because it's anything to get too excited over.  Just because...well, it's been a long week.

I ended up working some long hours to salvage a grant proposal that was due yesterday.  And while throughout college, grad school, and beyond my fix for a stressful night of writing was always a tasty snack (or ten), I've been working on finally shedding the weight that came with college, jobs, and all the other crappy excuses I made up to eat horribly.

But come on.  You can't spend your evening writing and revising a grant without soooooomething to give you a little spark, right?

2005 Bowman Chrome Green Refractor #221 - Adam Boeve /225 - Courtesy of
2005 Bowman Chrome Green Refractor #221 - Adam Boeve /225 Thanks, COMC. Every time I was feeling burnt out or completely loopy (cause working a 12 hour day will do that), I took a little COMC break, refilled my water, and snagged a card or two if I saw something that interested me. 2006 Topps Finest Red X-Fractor #138 - Bryan Bullington /250 - Courtesy of
2006 Topps Finest Red X-Fractor #138 - Bryan Bullington /250 And as you all know, there's always something that interests me. 2014 Panini Prizm Prizm Signatures #38 - Tony Pena - Courtesy of
2014 Panini Prizm Prizm Signatures #38 - Tony Pena This time of year typically isn't the best for COMC. Sellers just dumped tons of cards during the Black Friday sale and Christmas buying. It's been pretty dry for me for the past month and a half. But if you look hard enough... I was able to snag some nice cards just added to the site. I also decided to put together my very first Frankenset. 2014 Topps High Tek National League Ice Diffractor #HT-JCU - Johnny Cueto /75 - Courtesy of
2014 Topps High Tek National League Ice Diffractor #HT-JCU - Johnny Cueto /75 More honestly, I just want to hoard as many Tek cards as humanly possible because they rock. But in the process, I might as well grab one of every player in the set, right? I'm not giving any preference to any particular pattern or parallel vs. base variation. The Disco Diffractors /50 are probably my favorite, but I'll take whatever falls into the $2 or under price range I'm aiming for. I'm hoping to get at least one variation of all the relatively common patterns, and already have at least one of the three most common numbered diffractors. Doing some quick math, it looks like I have about 1/3 of the set already from the cards of 90's players I've been picking up here and there. Aside from some of the older stars (Mays, Koufax) that might be slightly more expensive, most of the remaining players are current players who aren't too pricey. Depending on how picky I get with patterns and whatnot, I figure I should be able to finish off the "set" in relatively quick order and for around $50. Not bad for what is probably my favorite release of the past decade. Just what I needed, another project. I blame it on work...can that mean it counts as a tax writeoff too?

Monday, January 11, 2016

A Night with My Collection

It's a blessing and a curse to get a package in the mail from COMC.  And one that included my Black Friday pickups was my largest ever at 300 cards.  The plus side?  Tons of new cards.

The down side?  Tons of new cards.  I've been working on being a little less anal about tracking my collection.  I've stopped tracking my Steelers, Pens, and WVU collections.  It just got too time consuming to maintain spreadsheets for each collection.  Especially when my additions tend to come in waves.

 Will I ultimately end up with some doubles in my collection?  Sure.  But my largest of the batch is my Steelers collection at about 1000 cards.  And even at that number, it barely scrapes the surface of what's available.
 Now my Pirate collection...
 That's a different story.  I keep a detailed spreadsheet of my entire Pirates collection.  And it's more than paid dividends for all the time and energy that continues to go into maintaining it.
 More than a few times I've nearly passed on a card I actually didn't have.  And even more frequently, it's stopped me from buying a card I already had.
 So tonight I'll be settling in, watching the NCAA championship game, and catching up on getting my spreadsheet up to date.  Things only a card collector (or accountant) would say...

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Lesson Learned

It ain't over til it's over.  Yesterday was a roller coaster ride.  I spent the better part of the afternoon with my father in law learning how to do some basic car maintenance.  No, I didn't know how to change my own oil.  Or do much beyond put gas in the car and drive.  My dad has always been staunchly in the camp of "pay an expert to do it, cause you might get yourself killed."  But considering the hour plus drive I have each way to work every day, the miles and oil changes have added up pretty quick.

Luckily my f-i-l is well versed in car...things.  And it was some nice bonding time with a guy who is a man of very, very few words.  I was feeling pretty darn proud of myself, as we pulled out of my inlaws driveway and headed home to catch the Steeler game.  That is until about 5 miles down the road the electrical in the car suddenly shorted out.  While driving.  Luckily I was able to safely get off the road, restart the car, and nervously get back to the inlaws to diagnose the problem.

We cleaned some gunk (technical term) off of the battery terminals, and it looks like one of the connections wasn't tightened all the way.  Oops.
We had missed our window, so decided to stick around there to watch the game.  My nerves settled down just enough over the car scare to get ramped back up over the playoff game about to start.

But boy did that exceed my expectations.

As someone who enjoys the occasional bloodbath, I really enjoyed watching the whole game.  Kate and I made the drive home at halftime, successfully this time.  But as the lead was slipping away in the 4th quarter, I angrily turned the tv off after AJ Green's touchdown.  With a backup qb and time ticking away, I wasn't feeling too confident.  I checked ESPN, and saw that the last play had been a Landry Jones interception, sealing the loss under quite literally any logical scenario.

But who needs logic.  While the Steelers were improbably winning the game through the craziest of circumstances, I sulked off to bed.

Lesson learned.  Always check.

I was pretty shocked to open up facebook on the iPad in bed this morning, seeing gleeful statuses from my friends last night.  I was perplexed to say the least.  And then I opened up ESPN, screamed loud enough to get elbowed in the side by Kate, and learned the good news.

So the Steelers survive another week, and I have another good reason to wear my Kordell Stewart jersey.  And this time, I'll watch the whole game.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Mmm, Shiny

I don't consider myself an impulsive person.  If anything, I'm probably too calculating when it comes to parting with money.  But shiny cardboard is my weakness.  And as I start to run out of Pirate cards I really, truly want that aren't higher priced vintage or rare cards, I've become susceptible to the temptation of the shiny.

For collectors of a certain age, refractors can't help but hold a special place of mystique.  They were the elusive rare cousin of the already super premium Chrome cards.

Chrome with magical rainbow powers?  Enter the shiny.

And as with all things in this hobby, what was once rare and expensive can now be had on the cheap.

So here and there I have been picking up select refractors.  Nothing crazy, but just some lower end cards that look...well, they look cool.

 Shiny, reprint, and wood grain?  Yes please.
 It's certainly a buyer's market.  I don't think any card in this post cost more than $.70.  And while there aren't exactly any cards that are going to set the world on fire, I think at one point or another all of these would have been relatively desirable.
 Then again, maybe that's the point.  The number of collectors has tailed off by leaps and bounds since 1990's levels.  And even cards that were once fairly rare are available in quantities that outpace the number of collectors who are actively searching for them today.
 Not that I mind.
 There are plenty of great looking cards out there, and I'm certainly happy to give them a good home.
 And I'll be the first to say that I didn't mind the days when refractors weren't one per pack.  For the better part of a decade, Topps put together some fantastic designs that look great on the refractor stock.
 So while I'm trying to cut back on impulse purchases this year, the draw of shiny cards is more than my willpower can handle.  And for minimal cost, I don't mind diverting a few bucks of my hobby dollars to add more like this to my collection.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Congrats, Junior

The whole "getting older" thing is starting to become a reality for me.  And I don't know that there are many markers that will make that more clear for me than The Kid heading into the Hall, a kid no more.

For me, Ken Griffey, Jr. was the player that made buying a pack of baseball cards worthwhile if you pulled his card.  Or enticing to buy in general just by having him on the packaging.

He was the epitome of cool, backwards baseball cap and effortless gallop.

While I fully admit the aura of childhood and ESPN catchphrases added to the hype of Griffey in my mind, I don't know that there is a player who I have watched play a game so effortlessly as he did.  And say what you will, but there is no player out there who I would rather see as the player to receive the highest percentage of Hall votes.  And it's a damn shame anyone out there thought him unworthy, for whatever their twisted personal cause.

He brought a degree of fun, excitement, and anticipation to a game where 90% of the action is inaction.  Everything about my own baseball playing was built to mimic my favorite player.  From my Junior model glove and bat to my left handed, upright stance.  But no matter how many hours I spent swinging, I could never find a swing as sweet as his.  I don't know that anyone ever will.  It's simply the way baseball was designed to be played.

It's strange to see two players I grew up watching not only reach the twilight of their careers but now take their place amongst the immortals, their playing days a memory just the way Clemente is to my father or Mays to my grandfather.  Players who played so effortlessly that it's almost impossible for the next generation to envision.  And maybe I'm lucky in that regard.  At least I'll have some youtube clips to back up my argument when my future kids claim that the next great player is the best thing to ever touch a field.  But of course I'll always be right.  And Junior will always be the answer.