How To Put More Offenx into Topps Attax

Author: Todd Uncommon

It does seem like there is life in the hobby for those under 15, and some gravity has accumulated around Topps Attax.  On June 26th, national championships were held for Topps Attax baseball at Citi Field.  Ike Davis was on site, as promised, but how cool was it to have Keith Hernandez be the emcee?  I wonder if that was a surprise for the contestants.  And their moms.

These championships are a good idea, and should be kept up, and expanded, as long as Topps Attax continues to live on.  Since the brand started last year with baseball, Attax has expanded to include Pucks, Slams, Matches, and well, NFL Football most recently.  Topps appears to be committed to promoting and expanding the sports card gaming brand for the foreseeable future.

There may be potential for Attax to be the sports-based gaming card that can add new life to sports card collecting in general, especially with the younger generation.  Even with console games, television, schoolwork (really?), and every other activity kids have available to them today, many still choose to collect and play Magic: The Gathering, Yu-Gi-Oh!, Bakugan, and every other anime card game out there (Zatchbell, Pokemon, Digimon, Dragonball, and on and on…).  However, I think there are a few things holding Attax back from really competing on the same footing.

  • Round the corners, please.  The cards are a little schizophrenic; they’re not quite full baseball cards (no stats, numbering, etc.), but are expected to be used as game cards. Used as game cards = going to receive “wear”.  Sharp corners undermine its playability somewhat, like the card should be in a sleeve, case, or page only, and not play ready without wrecking its sports card “value potential”;
  • Durability! Every Magic or anime game card out there is more shaped like (rounded corners), and feels like (coated), a playing card than a traditional sports card.  They seem more durable and ready to play, rather than “will I ruin my card if I play with it?”  The Puck Attax game cards were made circular to avoid violation of the exclusive NHL license to Upper Deck.  If Topps didn’t make a [square sports card], but made a (round game piece) then they were in the clear.  Genius, really.  The got to make a card-like product with the NHL’s blessing, and also come up with a design that is, lo and behold, more durable to play with;
  • Add a greater element of the chase.  Every collectible card game (CCG) out there has a standard common, uncommon, rare, and super rare seeding process in every booster pack.  Make cards along that tier, and desirability goes up.  I’ve seen kids barter for rare anime cards (like I used to with baseball cards) with tactics that would make an Antwerp jeweler blush;
  • Make an easy checklist and number the cards, even on the front in mouse type, if that’s what it takes.  Attax’s ready-to-game status is hindered by the shape, but conversely, its status as a collectible also is hindered because you just don’t know what’s good to get, exactly, especially when a kid (and parent) is at Target, deciding whether to buy it or not, given neighboring alternatives. Yes, even those Bella Sara cards;
  • It’s the Attax UNIVERSE!  Now that there’s five different versions of Attax, it would be sweet to come up with rules to have a meta-game with their values.  Payton Manning vs. John Cena!  Vladimir Guerrero vs. Cristiano Ronaldo!  Given that the current releases have different backs (and shapes with Puck), that may be difficult.  However, that idea may open the door to plan ahead for cross-sport potential in future designs;
  • Use the sports property effectively!  Past editions of Attax with foil versions just aren’t going to cut it.  Let Panini do the foil thing; if they could coat LeBron James in foil and sell off slivers of him as relics, I think they might give that a try.  What about autos?  As far as I know, there’s no such thing as autographed anime cards.  Even artist-signed Magic cards are a yawner idea.  I was just thinking the other day, “If Topps has this fierce backlog of sticker autos they need to use, why not put them on a more budget “game” card like Attax, and add value and a chase factor to the product?  How much cooler would it be, as a kid, if you could slap down a Ryan Howard auto FTW?”

Topps Attax with autos! (But does it have a card number?) - image courtesy of dacardworld.com

It’s nice to see that there are some attractive autos in with the Attax NFL Football cards.  If we’re looking for innovation in the sports card business, some of it may be with Topps Attax.

So where’s the Keith Hernandez Topps Attax card with a Moustache hair relic?  I’m sure Keith’s ‘specialty’ value would be, like, 306.

“Say ‘hi’ to your mom…”

Chase the Base?

Author: Todd Uncommon

Contained in responses to a “state of the hobby” thread today on SCU, the discussion largely turned again towards whether the hobby would do better to market directly to kids, or to just assume that someone older always buys the cards.  Is it true that kids today don’t buy them with their own money, and might get them only in some sort of trickle-down effect of collectibles?

It is very hard not to extrapolate personal experience as a kid too far into the present. The target market for cards had always been kids, at least until 1989. I think it is safe to say that Upper Deck’s debut with premium cards at premium prices started the end of the kid-budget era.

In 1981, whatever money I got as a kid–allowance, small job, gifts, recycling proceeds, even found change–easily would pay for a fistful of card packs at the counter of my local supermarket or drug store. 25, 35 or 40 cents didn’t take long to add up to buy just one.

Back when 30¢ could get you 15 best friends (and a sticker!). For a while. Maybe.

Today, “retail” options are pretty much limited to discount mega-chains like Target and Walmart, and that same fistful of packs basically come prepackaged in a blaster for $20. Even accounting for inflation, those prices (for arguably less desirable product than hobby edition) are out of reach for any frequency on a kid’s budget, so I am convinced that it is more often some adult’s money that really is the revenue source.

I have to give credit to the card makers for actually trying to make lower-cost products in an attempt to get closer to kids’ budgets: Upper Deck Victory, First Edition, Topps Total, Opening Day, etc. to name a few.  As much of a nostalgic note as it strikes with me to have 99 cent pack options on the store shelves, there is also one inescapable truth. Nobody wants these products.

Why?  Well, the allure of pricier brands is strong, and their lottery-style hits are glitzier than those from these budget brands, even if the cheaper sets have them at all.  Add the fact that with some of these lower cost products, you really can see the quality reduction to meet that price point. UD First Edition is an awful product; it’s basically the standard set, but with the attractive life in it sucked out so it could be sent back in time and sold into Cold War-era Bulgaria.

In trying to think as a kid, I can see why they might spend their three bucks on one pack of Yu-Gi-Oh! or M:TG with a guaranteed rare / shiny / powerful card in the mix, compared to three packs of stodgy, limp looking cardboard.

Hi! Magicians and clowns use me for flash paper at birthday parties!

Topps Total sometimes felt like it was printed on notebook paper, the cards were so thin.  Who wants these when somebody’s richer friends are getting at least flagship to high-priced and shiny cards from their mom, dad, or designated guardian?

I think the secret is not in finding a cheaper price for kids to afford.  What needs to happen, and I don’t know if it’s even possible at this point, is to make base cards desirable again.  Let’s face it, base cards are basically packing material for wide distribution of the hits these days.  Decoy support.  No better than gum, stickers, puzzle pieces, team logo holograms, or lenticular trivia cards used to be.

Now that overall populations of hits like autos and relics are in a glut, to the extent that you can get 4/$10 at your local card shop, the status of the base cards, even in the priciest of wax boxes, has fallen even further.

What "mojo hitz" looked like when your uncle was a boy.

To use my frame of reference as a kid in the 80s, finding the ’81 Fleer Fernand(o), the ’84 Topps Mattingly, or the ’85 Topps Gooden in a  40 cent pack *was* the hit.  Sure, that aspect of getting a lottery hit was present, even back then.  However, today, the lottery ticket appeal is actively marketed, rather than being a market effect of its own accord based on player or team popularity.

The last great base card?

Is making base cards the new chase cards even possible? I think the last time base cards were desirable on their own was 1990 Leaf.  If you got a 1990 Leaf Frank Thomas, you were doing really well.  Since then, chase cards, inserts, parallels, autos, and relics have all come and gone as gimmicks, taking our eyes off the mark of collecting “base” cards just because we like them, not because of what we think the inserts might be worth to someone else.

Here We Go Again

Author: Todd Uncommon

Yeah, I know.  It’s been since the end of April, whether it’s Mario, Matt, or me posting on Wax Heaven.  What can we say?  At least we’re still here.

Although my team’s not doing very well at it this year, I still am enjoying being part of A Cardboard Problem‘s hobby blogger fantasy baseball league on Yahoo.  I just so happen to have Steepin Strapsborg on my roster.  Like a dork, I drafted the guy at the beginning of the season, and held him on my bench until the beginning of June.  At least I remembered to start him when the time came.

As it happens, I was making an early morning (Pacific Time) visit to my team page (Victorious Secret) today. Beside each player’s name is a folder icon, which sometimes has that little new-folder-bling version, meaning there’s recent news from the fantasy rumor aggregation mill.  Today, the updated news item about Strasburg included a tidbit about the Bowman Red Auto 1/1.  It looked a little something like this:

Sooprise, sooprise, sooprise.  Hot on the heels of an announcement that the 2010 edition of Strapsborg-a-thon might stop before the end of the season, now seems to be the time to sell one of the new important cards of the hobby. It’s hard for me not to smirk and be cynical about the auction, but at least you get the biggest images yet of the (curved) grading (just like middle school geometry, but with more money involved) that this specimen received from Beckett.  Its important-ness must have counted for 1.5 points of the total grade, at least.

Is this a sign of Strapsborgianism cooling off?  Is now the time to get in, or to get out?

What’s Your Greatest eBay Wish?

Author: ToddUncommon

First of all, it’s hard to believe that it’s been nearly a month since the last post on Wax Heaven, and longer since my first.  As one of my friends says, time flies when real life happens.  On the personal front, I’ve been in the midst of a job search since before Christmas.  There are positive signs that things will turn around soon.  Naturally, much of my absence from here has been in keeping the household together, managing finances, and networking for new employment.

Anyway, enough excuse making, and on to the post subject. I have been lucky enough to live about a 25-minute out-of-shape jog away from eBay headquarters for several years now.  I’ve been an eBay buyer and seller since 1998, and over that time, eBay has invited me, off and on, to come to their campus and have the privilege to participate in “usability studies”.  They bring in users and customers, and have them go through exercises and interviews to provide feedback and user insight.

Recently, eBay contacted me to offer an invitation to an expanded usability study that runs from this evening to tomorrow morning.  So far, I’ve met product managers and engineers from the pricing, search, security, and platform / architecture departments of eBay.  They’ve been very receptive and responsive to ideas and experiences with eBay that I and the other invited customers have discussed with them so far.

For my part, I mentioned some of the issues that I’ve both heard from the hobby community and experienced first-hand.  For example, I mentioned the community perception of a “double dip” between eBay insertion / final value fees and PayPal processing fees.  I also passed along concerns I’ve seen on message boards about the new pricing that eBay announced.  New or lower volume non-eBay store users have minimal insertion fees, but eBay stores will see the five cent insertion fee for inventory (Buy it Now) items going away, and being priced higher.  For card sellers on eBay, this can be a daunting shift to readjust dozens (to hundreds) of listings to find a way to sell low-price / low-demand cards, and still find a way to come out ahead.

eBay is, like it or not, the central marketplace for our hobby, whether you’re a dabbler or a retailer.  Nearly every card shop I know that still exists does significant business on eBay.  The most successful shops tell me they do nearly a third of their business on eBay, and it helps keep their physical store open (at least as long as rent doesn’t go up).  Here’s a prime shot to tell eBay what you really think needs to change or be improved, at least for our “Sports Mem, Cards and Fan Shop” category that’s been as staple of the site since it was conceived.

Although this is short notice, I return for additional sessions tomorrow morning here on the West Coast, and I am inviting you to comment on this post with the things that both bother and concern you the most about eBay, as well as any ideas you might have to suggest for improvement.  It’s one thing for me to interpret my experiences and what I’ve heard, and another to be able to go back tomorrow morning, point to Wax Heaven, and say “take a look”.

So, what would you tell eBay if you could?

The (Re)Opening Act

Author: ToddUncommon

I’d like to think of this as a long-time invitation finally fulfilled.  Last spring, Mario asked if I would be willing to contribute to Wax Heaven.  I’ve been posting as ToddUncommon here and on some popular hobby blogs for over a year, so some of you may recall some comments I’ve made here and there.  I’ve always made time for comments (that’s easy), but thanks to Mario, I now have the benefit of a commitment.  I try to be funny.  Sometimes I even succeed.

In anticipation of Mario’s return to Wax Heaven, I’ll toss out some hobby commentary (like “high end” won’t save collecting; it’s just the lead car on the hobby lollercoaster), some wax crackin’, some wise crackin’, and general tomfoolery.  My occupational life history in 3D graphics software should help provide a unique perspective (though, thankfully, no Tron suits with moose knuckle). Except for that time. Just now.

My collecting tendencies are towards vintage and oddball stuff, mostly baseball and football.  I also can’t avoid my now almost primal need to open up new wax, score some hits, and put a few sets together. Add that to over 30 years of experience, and this should be fun.

Credentials, you ask?  I’ve been collecting since I was six.  My grandmother bought me the first cards I can remember. She got a a rack pack for me that contained a Reggie, a Bobby Bonds, Honus and Ted ATGs, and the only name I recognized, Hank Aaron:

I used to keep it in my dresser drawer when I was seven.  Other kids would make fat offers to trade it when I was in middle school. I got it hand-signed by The Man at a show in Portland, Oregon in 1984.  For my collection / accumulation / unintentional hoard, this card is my FILO: First In, Last Out.

Thanks for the invite, Mario, and looking forward to helping Wax Heaven keep on keepin’ on.