Finally – Topps To Produce Fewer Redemption Cards
Topps is now bigger than ever. Utterly dominant in baseball and ready to monopolize basketball and football in the near future. Therefore, everything they do makes headlines throughout the hobby.
Thus, when they held the Topps Conference on February 26-28, several big stories came of it. Each with the potential for a significant impact on the industry. Here at Cardlines, we are unpacking every one of the new policies that arose at the conference.
This article will examine the company’s announcement that fewer redemptions will occur. He is the lowdown on the decision made by Topps to produce fewer redemption cards.
2023 Topps Industry Conference at Chase Field in Arizona
The annual Topps Industry Conference has been held every year (well, that’s what annual means) since 2018. The baseball cards giant first launched it as a rival to the veteran Beckett-organized Industry Summit. In order to lure in hobby enthusiasts, Topps has issued cool Industry Conference-exclusive cards.
Topps bills the event as a chance to “learn about best practices to expand your industry knowledge and grow your current successes. Conference speakers will include sports and entertainment industry experts across various Fanatics Collectibles properties, guest speakers to teach sustainable growth, special appearances, off-site activities, and a Q&A with Topps Executives.”
The promotion and format have been quite successful. How successful? Topps now charges $450 to attend, and people flock to Arizona for the event. And this year, the event is particularly important. Once, it represented the second biggest card company in the US, after Panini. But now that Fanatics (the owners of Topps) have taken over the rights to the other major US sports, it has outsized importance. After all, whatever Topps does will reverberate throughout the hobby.
What Are Redemption Cards?
Most of the popular sports card products contain autographs. Indeed, some formats, especially hobby boxes, guarantee several autographs. However, these aren’t always available on time for the product release. In addition, it can be difficult to coordinate a time and place for busy athletes to sign large numbers of cards.
Therefore, sometimes the athletes and card companies will be unable to fulfill the promised autograph. In those cases, they may include a redemption card you can send to the company. They then promise to redeem the request and send you a spanking new autographed card. Over the years, the number of redemption cards appearing in products has increased. And while the process can work well, other times, it is full of problems. We will discuss that at length below.
We should note that there are two main types of card autographs. Some have on-card autographs, and meanwhile, the rest have sticker autos. Getting an athlete to sign a bunch of stickers is far easier than a stack of cards. However, the latter requires far more coordination and a tighter timeline since the card must be printed and ready for signing.
Topps plans to produce fewer redemption cards
At the 2023 Topps Industry Conference at Chase Field in Arizona, several important announcements were made. We have already covered the decision to give Bowman refractors to players with a Bowman 1st in the release.
But we are here to discuss another significant development. On Monday, February 27th, Mike Mahan, the CEO of Fanatics Collectibles, said, “We are laser-focused on the collector experience.. and redemption is a poor collector experience. So we are doing everything we can to reduce and hopefully eventually eliminate redemptions.”
What does fewer redemption cards mean for the hobby?
Let’s put this news into its broader context. An inward-looking elite has run the sports card world for a long time. It has often seemed that Topps and Panini print cards without much thought of quality because they are guaranteed to sell many popular products. That has undoubtedly netted the companies a lot of money. But it has also kept the reach of hobby somewhat limited.
The new management at Fanatics has far more ambition than that. This isn’t their first rodeo. They took the sports apparel world, already a big money moneymaker, to new frontiers of profitability.
Michael Rubin, the owner of Fanatics, has a tried and true formula. First, he turned his company into the only game in town for jerseys and other team merch. As he told the New York Times, “If you’re selling the same merchandise that’s commonly available, and you’ve got no point of differentiation, you’re dead. It’s just a question of when you die. Somebody can’t be a significant player without the rights that we possess.”
That was step one, and he has already achieved that in the card market. But the next is to establish a more agile model with greater reach to find a broader and more reliable customer base. And that is where these steps come in. But unfortunately, the sports card industry has a lot of inadequacies, inefficiencies, and other problems. And for many in the hobby, redemptions are among the worst of these.
Why are redemption cards such an issue for collectors?
Obviously, we would all prefer to open a box and find the auto we were looking for waiting for us. But in the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t seem like such a big deal if we have to mail in a card and wait for a bit. Right?
But there are a couple of severe problems with the process. Unfortunately, ones that we long-suffering hobby enthusiasts are all too aware of.
The lengthy wait time
Usually, when you hit a redemption card in a Panini or Topps product, they will tell you that the wait time to redeem the card is up to six months. Of course, that is a long time to wait for a card you just pulled, but still acceptable. Delayed gratification is the key to success, after all. I am sure you have heard about the marshmallow test, right?
But that is often the best-case scenario. In my worst experience, I waited for over a year. And lord knows, I complained a lot. But turns out this was pretty lucky. For some collectors, the wait times are insanely long. Take a look at the experiences some folks over at Blowout Forums have had over the years. In the most extreme case I could find, one user said they had been waiting nine years to receive the card.
And the amount of time it takes seems almost random at times. For example, you could be waiting 6 years for your Giannis auto, but his brand new signatures will arrive for a new product. So it kind of seems like the old autos are forgotten.
At some point, Panini and Topps may compensate the victims of these endless delays. That can take the form of a redemption pack. Like for example, the NFL Mosaic Sparkle Redemption Packs offered by Panini recently. These can be great rips at times. But they are not always excellent compensation for a top-notch auto.
Useless redemptions in old wax
eBay is full of older wax products, and they are incredibly popular. It can be a ton of fun to open a box of Bowman from 2018 and see what prospects you pull. But this is where redemptions get really sticky. A redemption card will usually expire after a year or so.
What is the policy of the big card companies towards expired redemption cards? For example, Topps writes: “Once a redemption code expires, it cannot be extended or redeemed.” Meanwhile, Panini explains: “If you do not submit a Redemption Request before the expiration date, the redemption card is void and cannot be used in the Redemption Program. However, if the Redemption Request is submitted before expiration, it will be considered a timely Redemption Request.”
In other words, you are screwed once the expiry date passes. Of course, we have heard of cases where expired redemptions were redeemed anyway, but you certainly can’t count on things breaking in your favor. And that means people are ripping old wax and losing thousands of dollars because of these redemption cards.
For these two reasons, redemption cards are highly unpopular among collectors. And that is undoubtedly one of the reasons Topps is cutting down on them. But another reason could affect Fanatics’ bottom learn far more immediately.
Topps is currently embroiled in a lawsuit, alongside Panini, in New York State, and a second filing took place in the District of Columbia. The main issue at hand wasn’t one of the ones mentioned above. Both of those practices are annoying as hell but appear to be legal.
Instead, Panini and Topps are accused of misleading customers by making them believe they had a higher chance of receiving a high-value card than they did in reality. The plaintiffs claim that providing consumers with a redemption card without giving a choice in the matter constitutes an “unlawful lottery.”
The filings are built on the claim that:
“By requiring the purchase of the Product and rendering it difficult to impossible for nonpurchasers to obtain the redemption cards, consumers are misled to purchase items they otherwise would not have to, at higher prices. Plaintiff believed and expected purchasing the Product was necessary to gain entry to the contest and gave the purchaser a greater chance at winning the contest because that is what the representations and omissions said and implied. Plaintiff would not have purchased the Product if she knew the representations and omissions were false, unlawful or misleading or would have paid less for it.”
If the lawsuits go against the card companies, the redemption cards could cost Fanatics a lot of money. There may even be an injunction forcing them to stop producing these cards. So, Topps has several very good reasons to stop making redemption cards if possible.
What will Topps do now?
We know that Fanatics will seek to lower the number of redemptions in products and eventually eliminate them. But how will they do so? There are a few options open to the company.
First, they may rely more heavily on stickers than before. Second, they could print cards earlier to give athletes more time to sign them. Third, they can pay athletes more money to ensure timely signatures. Fourth, they can include fewer autos in Topps products. Fifth, they can increase the number of veteran autos in their products. After all, retired players have more time to sign than young stars.
Each of these options has its problems for the company. Fanatics can undoubtedly afford to cut expenses by including fewer autos or swapping out on-card versions for stickers. However, people would still buy the boxes, especially with Topps’s monopoly.
Why Topps should replace redemptions with high-quality autos
Sticker autos, while a viable solution, would hurt the stated purpose of growing the hobby exponentially. Obviously, marketing can do wonders for sales, and Fanatics are excellent at leveraging every opportunity into proven growth. But you also need to provide an appealing product to attract new customers. Therefore, on-card autos are crucial to building any brand into an actual high-end release.
When we look at the Topps catalog of brands, some true gems exist among them. Bowman, in particular, has massive potential. But despite trying, Topps doesn’t have a true rival to high-end Panini releases like Flawless and National Treasures.
If they want that to change, top-notch on-card autos from the biggest stars in all sports are an essential investment and one I am confident Fanatics will make. But that may mean that lower-end products will be sticker only to distribute resources more efficiently. That will be a shame for beloved products like Heritage, with their beautiful on-card autos.
So, there is reason to hope that Topps will include many on-card autos in future releases, even if it costs them more money.
The final word on Topps producing fewer redemption cards
Let’s not mince words. Redemption cards suck, and no one will miss them. It may take Fanatics a while to eliminate them from products. But once they do, it is a reason to celebrate. They will at least try to make good on this promise. And even a reduction is better than nothing.
However, it remains to be seen how the folks at Fanatics will deal with autos in the future. Will they lower the auto rate, include more sticker autos, provide us with more veteran player autos, or actually increase the number of quality items in their boxes?
The answer is not apparent. Fanatics is caught between two business impulses. On the one hand, they are a monopoly now. And the fundamental laws of economics teach us that monopolies do not stress quality. Instead, they flood the market with adequate goods, knowing the consumer has no choice.
But Fanatics is a VERY ambitious monopoly. It is always looking to grow and has shown an interest in customer satisfaction and exponentially increasing its market base. So, which instinct will win out? We are about to find out. The way Topps replaces redemptions with autos will tell us much about the answer.