By Barry Janoff
July 9, 2015: Topps has been part of baseball for 65 years, creating some of the most iconic images, collectibles and memorabilia in sports history.
Founded in 1938, The Topps Company produces and markets traditional sports cards via deals with Major League Baseball, NFL (a contract now in its last season), Major League Soccer, UEFA Champions League, English Premier League, WWE, UFC, Bundesliga and Indian Premier League.
But far from being stuck in the past, Topps’ sports app portfolio includes Topps Bunt, Topps Huddle and Topps Kick as well as Star Wars.
The New York-based company also creates entertainment cards and collectibles for such brands as Wacky Packages, Garbage Pail Kids, Mars Attacks and other trading cards, sticker album collections and items.
Prior to the start of the current MLB season, Buster Posey of the San Francisco Giants was voted as the "Face of Major League Baseball" by fans via an online contest conducted by MLB Network. In June, he was introduced as the face of Topps' Series Two Baseball, saying during a media event, “There are few things that are more American iconic than baseball cards, and I am proud to work with Topps on this partnership, which will celebrate all that is good about collecting and digital engagement in and around baseball.”
Topps also plans to go down kicking as it enters its final season as an official producer of NFL cards, signing quarterback and No. 1 overall pick Jameis Winston to an exclusive deal for the 2015 season.
On the eve of the 2015 MLB All-Star Game, NYSportsJournalism spoke with Clay Luraschi, vice-president of Product Development for Topps, regarding the signing of Posey, the impact of such rookies as Kris Bryant and Joc Pederson and the state of card collecting.
NYSportsJournalism.com: How would you describe the sports card category in 2015?
Clay Luraschi: Baseball card collecting is very healthy right now. We are the exclusive partner with Major League Baseball and that has helped to grow the category and interest among fans. Along with the physical business we also have a highly successful digital baseball business in BUNT. We are here to cater to fans, and collectors who love the physical stuff and then for the people who are wired in to the digital side of sports. So we cater to the different groups. But, obviously there is a cross-over.
NYSJ: There are a lot of young players in the game, so do you get feedback from them?
CL: Yes. The younger players might be more in-tune with the digital elements since they have had them their whole lives, where the older players would have actually collected cards as kids. They are into BUNT, and we do hear from them. A big part of what we do involves the physical items, but the world is going digital and we are building that aspect of our company in a big way. At the end of the day, a trading card is a great piece of memorabilia that you can cherish and hold onto. It represents a moment in sports history. Whether it is physical or digital, we still like to drive home what a trading card is all about.
NYSJ: Considering how many brands and names are thrown at consumers every day, is the Topps name still strong?
CL: Yes. It has an immediate recognition. We've done research and our brand recognition is off the charts. Part of what we are doing this year is a 'Rediscover' campaign. We are encouraging parents, such as myself who collected card in the 1980s, but also those who collected in the 1960s, 1970s and 1990s, to get back to the hobby they enjoyed so much. We are saying go back into your closet or into your attic or basement to find the cards you collected and put away, pull it out and share it with your kids. And when you combine them with the new things we are introducing in collecting, it is a great way for parents and grandparents to bond with their kids and grandikids. I have a three-year-old daughter and she enjoys seeing the cards.
NYSJ: Aside from the memorabilia that is valuable because of their rarity, do trading cards in general, be they physical or digital, still hold up as valuable pieces of property?
CL: They do. Especially in this age of social media, it is a way to connect with friends and with others who are fans of your team or of certain players. At the end of the day, we celebrate pop culture, and that translates very well with sports and entertainment fans and consumers. We will have a presence again at the MLB All-Star Game and we expect to see a tremendous turnout by fans.
"At the end of the day, we celebrate pop culture, and that translates very well with sports and entertainment fans and consumers."
NYSJ: Baseball has long held the No. 1 spot among collectors but is that still true, with the rise of the NFL and growing interest in its players and collectibles?
CL: Baseball is definitely tops for us, but football is right there. The growth of interest in the NFL has pushed the football trading card business to a new level. Basketball is on the rise, but probably soccer, where we have an alliance with MLS and the EPL, is a very hot property. But there is a lot of interest from the fans of each sport, which we are seeing not just with MLB and MLS but also with WWE and UFC.
NYSJ: What is hot beyond the physical and digital cards?
CL: People want items that bring them closer to players, terms and sports that they follow. If you have a card embedded with a piece of jersey, and they touch that jersey, it brings them that much closer to the player. Autographs have always done that. Anything that gets the fan and collector closer to the player and closer to the field, the more we can make that happen the stronger the category becomes.
NYSJ: Topps recently signed Buster Posey as its spokesman for Series Two Baseball. How did that come about and how do you see him driving awareness and marketing?
CL: We worked with Buster before, having him do autographs and support our products. But when it came to picking someone to be the face of our MLB products, we felt he embodied the spirit of who we are. We are an iconic company that caters to kids and he fits right in with that. We met with him and had no doubt that he would be great for us. He is on the box, on wrappers and is doing other things to support the product (including appearing in the Topps office in New York to break open packages with fans and members of the media).
NYSJ: There are a lot of young players in MLB who are being pegged as future stars, so how is that helping Topps to drive interest?
CL: The great thing about this MLB season is that there are a lot of great rookies — Kris Bryant, Joc Pederson, Yasmany Tomas, Billy Burns and others — who are part of a tremendous new wave of players including Mike Triout, Yasiel Puig and Bryce Harper. Rookies and young players really drive the trading card business. People always want those cards. So when you have that wave of new players, it's exciting for the trading card business. This allows us to get their cards to fans and helps us to bring the fans and collectors into all of the products we are supporting.
NYSJ: There was time when the trading card business was suffering from over-saturation, which seems less of a problem now. How would you describe the state of the business?
CL: There was over-saturation, too many licensees. It created too much product, some of which was not of the standard that we aim for at Topps. It created confusion. It scared away a lot of people. But we are in a good place now. There has been a lot of consolidation. We are the only official partner with MLB, for example. So that has strengthened the category tremendously, brought back credibility and also brought back fans who may have left. So now they see products that they like again and want to share with their kids.
NYSJ: What do you see looking foward for Topps?
CL: The next generation of collectors are seeing physical and digital products that they want to collect and share with their parents and friends. We see that driving us forward not just in the sports side but also the entertainment side. We have always believed that Topps products are the best and we see that today in the way our business is growing and how we are connecting with more fans and collectors.
Catcher In The Cards: Buster Posey Is Tops At Topps
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