With so many products on the market, are baseball cards headed for another collapse?
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With so many products on the market, are baseball cards headed for another collapse?

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Baseball card production runs are no where close to where they were in the '80s and '90s, says David Leiner, the global general manager of sports and entertainment for Topps.

Baseball card production runs are no where close to where they were in the '80s and '90s, says David Leiner, the global general manager of sports and entertainment for Topps. (Erin Cadigan/Dreamstime/TNS)

ARLINGTON, Texas - A trip to the local baseball-card store can make a novice collector's head spin.

Topps, and its various brands, continue to top the market, but Irving-based Panini, with the rekindled Donruss brand in its stable, has added variety to the market.

Upper Deck is still hanging around, though not in baseball.

The other three major sports are well represented in the hobby, too.

That might make it seem like the industry is in position for another fall akin to the collapse of the late 1980s and early 1990s.

David Leiner, the global general manager of sports and entertainment for Topps, said that just isn't the case.

He was at AT&T Stadium on Tuesday as Topps hosted the Million Card Rip Party to launch their 2020 Series 1 Collection. The idea was that 19 teams - called case breakers - would open cases of packs of cards until a million cards were opened.

They reached 1,002,456 cards from more than 21,000 jumbo packs.

It was sign that the hobby is doing just fine.

Leiner talked about the health of collecting as packs were being ripped.

- How is the industry faring?

I've been working at Topps for the past 10 years and in and around the business since I was a kid. In terms of the business of collecting, this is probably the strongest we've seen the business in at least 20 years, and that's across all sports. The entertainment business is strong, and the baseball business is just absolutely on fire.

What's interesting, too, is that we're seeing growth across all of our channels. We're seeing growth in our hobby stores. Brick-and-mortar hobby is strong. We're seeing growth in our mass retail. Target, Wal-Mart are both growing at a 25%, 30% clip. And we're seeing our dot.com business.

A few years ago we really made a push on the dot.com side, and our hobby stores were concerned. "Oh, is this going to take from our sales?" What we've seen is new collectors are coming into the hobby. Whether through Topps.com or they come in through Wal-Mart or Target or a hobby store, once you get them in and they find a way to collect, they're going to find a hobby store. It's all about getting people into the hobby.

- So, you're not over-saturated despite all these different products?

There are a lot of different product lines, and some people do ask about that saturation. The late '80s and early '90s, what's considered the "junk wax era," some folks are concerned, "Are we entering that again?" No, we absolutely are not. The production runs are no where close to where they were in the '80s and '90s.

The reason you see a wide breadth of products in the Topps portfolio for baseball, we have products at the entry level, 99 cents for the Opening Day product. We have products like Transcendent at the higher end that retail for $25,000 a box, and many different things in between.

Baseball also is one of the few sports that has such a rich history, so we can tap into 150 years of baseball. We can tap into a minor-league system. The Bowman brand highlights prospects, draft picks, etc. No other sport can do that.

- How strong is the vintage market and what effect has grading had?

The vintage market, I think that also is helping drive the new card market. If you bought any 1950s or '60s card 10 years ago, you're making money and doing well for yourself. Grading commoditizes a bit. If you're buying '52 Topps Mantle PSA 4 or a PSA 5, it's commoditized and added some authenticity.

But, for the most part, it helps collectors know how to buy and what to buy. Vintage, I personally wish I had bought anything. I can't think of anything that would have been a better investment than vintage trading card. Name any metric on any stock market,vintage trading cards, unbelievable.

- What's the biggest challenge facing the industry right now?

To me, it's not even about saturation. It's demand. We're way under-supplying the demand right now. A lot of people ask me about collectibles and Topps and how we see the business. I boil it down, it's very simple: Collectibles are collectible if demand is higher than supply. You want to keep that gap somewhat tight. You don't supply to exceed demand, or things go in the tank. You want to keep things in a tight range.

What I don't like to see is, what put a SRP (suggested retail price) on a product, and I don't like see it sell three times on the business-to-business marketplace. We're seeing that today. We have products coming out for $4 a pack that immediately are selling on a B2B market at $10 a pack and to a consumer for $15. That's not healthy, either.

So, actually, I would say the biggest thing we're facing is supply. We can not supply enough product to meet the demand. I never thought I'd hear myself saying that. It's a unique problem to have, but we have so many new consumers coming into the hobby.

Visit the Fort Worth Star-Telegram at www.star-telegram.com

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