Archive for the ‘Sports Collectibles’ Category

HOW MUCH IS THAT AGAIN? SERIOUSLY?

Posted by Administrator On April - 7 - 2011ADD COMMENTS

One obvious outgrowth of eBay’s attempt to shift its marketplace from auction-centric sales to the fixed price “Buy It Now/Best Offer” approach is that it has revealed how little some sellers actually know about the ”real world” value of the items they are trying to sell.  Or it’s revealed that those sellers are in denial about the real value.

In the sports card market, this is partly the fault of Beckett’s price guides (both print and on-line).

Too many folks regard what Beckett has to say as gospel.  That comes from 30+ years of publishing price guides with little, or no, competition.  But, if you monitor bidding and final sale prices on eBay, you can clearly see that Beckett prices can often be a little too “pie in the sky”; especially when those prices relate to short-printed and extremely low print run items.

Why are Beckett’s guide prices often too high when compared to actual sales prices?  Well, consider their bottom line: their advertising support base.  That money is certainly not coming from the consumers or the subscribers.  It’s coming from the card manufacturers and some of the longstanding hobby shops around the country.  Those two groups desperately need to justify those hefty pack/box prices with some hefty potential value, or they’ll have a hefty credibility problem with the customers.  A $200 box of cards at retail had better yield, at a minimum, a perceived $200 in card value on the secondary market.  Beckett helps to fill that void very nicely.

The problem, of course, comes when a hefty perception fails to equal a hefty reality.  And, Beckett can play an unintended role in this even when it fails to price a rare short-printed item.  “No pricing due to scarcity” leaves the door open for some pretty wild swings in the pricing of cards on the Internet.  And, it isn’t always the so-called “weekend warriors” who struggle to understand the marketplace.  Frequently, the professional “brick and mortar” folks use the “scarcity” label to justify some pretty outrageous prices.  Sadly, the “scarcity” label can stick around for years after the introduction of a card set because with millions of prices in the guides, who has the time or staff to completely monitor and update older pricing while trying to keep the “hot” newer issue prices current?  (Computer programs can only do so much.)  Seriously, workload aside, Beckett analysts should have a pricing handle on “scarce” 5, 6, and 7 year old cards by now; even if there’s only been a sale or two on eBay. Yes, I know Beckett can’t completely control how dealers price an item, but, hey, the first thing you see on its website are the words, “Find The Right Value Of Your Cards.”  If the shoe fits… .

I won’t “out” any actual sellers in this blog to make my point, but examples like the one that follows are all too real.

The most glaring OVER-PRICING I’ve seen recently on eBay involves the 1999 SkyBox Super Rave series of cards.  Sure, the series is limited to 25 cards per player, and that’s pretty limited.  And, the serial number of the specific card in question features the player’s jersey number.  But, does that warrant a “Buy It Now” price of $999.99?  Who’s this guy kidding?  Yes, you can “Make an Offer,” but comparable sales prices don’t even justify an offer of 10% of the BIN price.  Heck, the seller probably has a pre-set automatic “decline” of any offer under $500.  There’s not even a thread or sticker autograph to even give this item a little price boost.  At the same time, another guaranteed future HOFer in this same subset is being offered at the way more reasonable opening bid of 99 cents!

What this seller doesn’t get is that the market is overrun with short prints; with and without the bells and whistles, patches, signatures, and so on.  There’s really nothing special about many of these items anymore.  (Maybe in 1999, but not a dozen years later.)  A review of this particular player’s card production numbers indicates he has over 3,500 with embedded memorabilia, and 2,400 of his cards have an autograph on board.  Somehow, the words “scarce” and “rare” just don’t seem to work.  And, the real buying world bears this out.  Despite this player’s popularity among collectors, this “thousand dollar” item wouldn’t even fetch a hundred bucks in an open auction.   To reach the century mark with this guy you need a sticker autograph or a fabulous looking piece of patch, or two.  To get $150, you definitely need the sticker AND the patches.  To get anywhere near $200, that signature had better be “on card.”

Even the idea of a limited print run of 75, 50, 25, or 10 doesn’t really carry much pricing weight these days.  All of those numbers are fairly small and after while they all seem about the same when it comes to pricing.  Especially, when card set after card set comes out with limited print run after limited print run.  Even the 1 of 1’s aren’t that rare when you look at all the varieties of them on the market.

Don’t believe me?  Check out the Internet auction world for yourself.  It’s all there for anyone to see.  You just need to do a little searching.   Pick any popular player and follow the price trends.  You’ll see what I mean.

Remember, when dealers put wildly high prices on stuff like this, it either means they are clueless, looking for a “sucker,” or really don’t want to sell the item unless they can make a mint off of it.  Or, all three.

HOW MUCH IS TOO MUCH???

Posted by Administrator On March - 13 - 2011ADD COMMENTS

Does it bother the folks at Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association that their partners in the baseball card business are busy cashing in on players who are no longer in the game, and in many cases, are long dead?

We keep reading and hearing how today’s kids are not as into cards as their fathers were when they were young in the 60’s, 70′, and 80’s. Could part of the problem be that so many of the card sets produced in the first decade of the 21st century are loaded with players from the past? Players who have little, or no, intimate connection to the kids in 2011.

Case in point – Mickey Mantle.  Arguably the most popular player among collectors in the second half of the 20th century. New York Yankee from the Golden Era. Hall of Famer. Fan favorite. Prolific autograph signer. Probably the first true superstar to embrace the hobby of collecting cards and memorabilia.

Mickey Mantle retired as a player in the spring of 1969 and died in 1995.  But, if you look at his baseball card production, you’d have no idea.

A quick visit to Beckett.com indicates that over 11,000 different card-related products of Mantle have been created since 1969.  10,000 of them came on the market since 2001; many of them “1 of 1’s” and other low print runs.  That’s a staggering number, and largely from one company, Topps, which has had an exclusive arrangement with the Mantle estate for well over a decade.

And, it’s not just Mantle.  The list is endless.  Take Cal Ripken, Jr.  He’s another one of the hobby’s favorites. He hasn’t set foot on the diamond as a player since the fall of 2001.  Beckett.com puts the total number of different Ripken cards, stickers, coins, etc. at somewhere in the 12,650 range, and very likely, still growing. In 1982, Cal’s first full Major League season, 7 cards were produced. Seven… ! Total! In 2010, I counted 235.  And, this is nine years after he retired. In Cal’s first ten years in the majors, less than 500 were made. And off that 12,650 number I mentioned a few sentences ago, over 8,000 have been manufactured and sold since Cal retired.  Many of them are basically the same card picture with different color graphics, or a variant with a serial number and a jersey or bat relic or autograph, or all the above. Don’t you think that longtime Ripken collectors have had enough? When do they get to retire?

Seriously folks, how much is too much?

All of this, of course, is magnified by an era of more total card sets, but fewer different individual player cards in each set. Gone are the days of the massive 700-plus card sets featuring every current big leaguer. Higher per pack prices due to those embedded relics along with autographs on the cards themselves require a selective choice of players who will appeal to the buyers with the disposable income. Those types of cards cost more to produce and manufacturers are reluctant to attempt a set without them.

Sadly, kids can’t drop hundreds of $$$ on cards every month, but their dads can and do.  So, Topps and its former competitors (Donruss, Upper Deck, etc.) keep targeting “dad” with the players of his youth. Sure, they still blend in plenty of the hot shots of today (Strasburg, Heyward, Harper, and so on) because everybody wants to win the lottery. But, the current mid-level players and the unproven young prospects are left out of the mix.

And, frankly, I’m surprised that the players’ union has let that happen. It’s creating a disconnect between the kids and the full crop of current players because nobody ever sees the “nobodies” who don’t make the final cut for the card sets.

Honestly, this seems like a business model doomed to failure, and I’m shocked that the MLB and the MLBPA can’t see this. They should have a vested interest in this because it’s truly a Golden Goose, and they’re helping to kill it.

At what point will the “dads” be gone and there won’t be any “sons” to replace them because cards and all the players of their youth won’t have been a part of the childhood they’ll be looking to re-capture.

The MLB and MLBPA could do something about this by requiring their licensees to limit former player appearances in current card sets. I’m not saying eliminate them. Limit them!  Do Cal Ripken, Mickey Mantle, or future retiree Derek Jeter really need to appear every single year from here to eternity?  How about once every 5 years with an exception made for the year a player enters the Hall of Fame. Ripken, for example, would logically appear in 5-year anniversary cycles of his 1995 breaking of the Gehrig streak record, and the exception would have been granted for his 2007 entrance into Cooperstown.  It would require Topps, and any future licensees, to plan their sets more carefully for inclusion of past stars. And, in doing so, it would return the focus of current sets to current players.

Sure, it will take some of the big name impact out of current sets, hitting Topps on its bottom line. But, not paying Cal Ripken, Willie Mays, the Mantle estate, the DiMaggio estate, the Ted Williams estate, and so on, will save the licensees some serious scratch.  After all, those retired big guns and their jerseys and autographs don’t come cheap. That might lower pack prices and get the kids back into the game for the long haul. Who knows?

You would think the players and the Players Association could see the long term benefits of this plan. And, I’ll bet it will put a smile on the faces of older collectors, too!

BEWARE WHEN BUYING TICKETS TO SPORTING EVENTS

Posted by Administrator On February - 23 - 2011ADD COMMENTS

This is not what you think.  I’m not sending out another warning to be aware of counterfeit tickets being offered on places like eBay and Craig’s List. Although, to borrow a phrase from Hill Street Blues, and date myself in the process, “Be careful out there.” This is more a cautionary alert about ticket condition as the years tick by.
Many sports and concert tickets suffer from fading because they were printed using a “thermal” process. There are actually two types of thermal printing: direct thermal and thermal transfer. And, although, companies that use these processes claim that thermal printing can be “archival” in nature, I would be especially careful when displaying these items or when shopping for a particularly rare ticket item on the Internet.  Thermal printing is extremely vulnerable to bright light, contact with heat sources, and to a certain extent, age.  Ultraviolet rays from the sun, photo flashes, and even the overhead light in your home will, over time, cause the thermal printing on the face of the ticket to fade. In fact, thermal printing is doomed to some effects of fading over time regardless of your best efforts to protect the item. Remember how the old fax machine paper used to turn a muddled brown after a while? That’s one example of the downside of thermal printing.
Typically, thermal printing in the sports/concert ticket process involves so-called “point of sale” tickets. It’s designed to cut costs by not actually printing the date/section/row/seat information on the face of the ticket until it’s actually sold at the gate or by a third party vendor such as Ticketmaster or Ticketron. And, this includes Ticket Master-style tickets that carry full color team logos on the base paper; even if the paper portion is printed in the non-thermal “four-color” process, and even if special inks were used as part of the security process.  (FYI- you are less likely to run into thermal printing with a team’s “season” ticket booklets, but that’s not a guarantee.)
I mention all this because, in recent weeks, I have seen a number of tickets for sale on various Internet sites and auctions that clearly show the damaging effects of “thermal” fading of the ticket information.  A potential buyer needs to look very closely at any ticket he wishes to purchase for its keepsake value. It really helps if a buyer can make a visual comparison of the printing on two or more tickets on the web site. But, any obvious fading of the printed ticket information or browning of the paper should be a red flag to the buyer that this a ticket that has been negatively impacted by light or heat, or both.

WHAT’S REALLY IN THE TOPPS VAULT?

Posted by Administrator On February - 13 - 20113 COMMENTS

Folks who shop around on eBay for baseball-related memorabilia are probably familiar with items in the so-called Topps Vault – the on-line auction sales arm of the Topps Company.

The “Vault” originated as a way for Topps to effectively clear out old photos, negatives, proofs for sports cards, and so on, from its six decades of existence. I imagine it has been fairly popular among the collector crowd and fairly lucrative for Topp$!!!

But, we’re concerned that once all the “old stuff” has been cleared out of the Vault, Topps will find a need to create “new stuff” to stuff the Vault to keep the cash cow alive. An example of this is now available on eBay: 2011 Topps Baseball 1/1 blank backs that have been created “exclusively” for Topps Vault/eBay auctions. On the surface, there’s nothing wrong with Topps electing to manufacture a licensed MLB product and sell it in any legal manner it chooses. We have to assume these 2011 1/1’s are “licensed” because the licensing information is missing since these cards were purposely created with blank backs.

Naturally, we ask, where does it end?

The proof cards and all of the other Vault items from years past were of a truly limited variety. Former Topps executive, Sy Berger, has lamented on many occasions the decision to dump the now extremely rare and valuable 1952 Topps Baseball high number series cards in the trash to avoid a storage issue. This, of course, happened 30 years before the baseball card industry caught fire. Now, the folks at any card manufacturer are acutely aware of the potential value of any product they create; especially proofs, prototypes, samples, wrong backs, blank backs, etc. Unlike 60 years ago, there has to be strong temptation to create the prototypes knowing that there is a potentially large market out there for these “limited” editions; some of which would be best classified as printer’s scrap. Somehow, it doesn’t seem right for any licensed manufacturer to purposely create and sell cards that, in reality, should join the ’52 Topps high series in the New York City dump.

Stay tuned

Posted by Administrator On February - 6 - 2011ADD COMMENTS

Insightful commentary about baseball cards and the ins and outs of sports memorabilia.

Copyright 2009 Aberdeen Trading Company, All Rights Reserved.