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State of the Hobby: Where Have All the Kids Gone?

by Dave Baran
July 31, 2004


Within the sports card industry, manufacturers tend to concentrate on whatever is most profitable at the time and will continue to produce and sell that until it no longer works. To a large extent, that is simply what business demands. However, that has led to increased prices for many of today's trading card products. This increased pricing is, in turn, contributing to one of the biggest problems with the hobby - the lack of products that appeal to the young collector and fit within their budget.

Trading cards are coming in numerous numbered or limited-edition variations and are often geared toward the high-end thrill seeker looking for autographed and game-used cards. The base card is losing its value, along with complete sets. Hobby shops are scarce, and with owners making most of their money from collectors in their mid-twenties or thirties, many do not tailor their offerings to kids.

While today's kids would be the collectors of tommorow, it is increasingly rare to find a boy or girl who's interested in collecting trading cards, especially sports cards. With prices of $3.00-$5.00 a pack or higher, you can't really blame them or their parents. Instead of buying trading cards, you see young people buy a music CD, video game or another product with their hard-earned money. Why? They simply can't get much in the way of trading cards for the same money. This is a growing problem that the hobby needs to address before today's generation loses all of its interest in sports cards.

Many other collectors and even hobby shop owners also believe that kids, the previous foundation of the hobby, have been priced right out of the hobby. Card manufacturers, on the other hand, say that they still produce low-end products that can fit into a young collector's budget.

In fairness, many card manufacturers have made an attempt to develop low-end products for the younger market. Topps has been a leader in this area as its standard baseball product still sells for just $1.59 per pack. Upper Deck has also made notable strides in addressing this concern with its low-end products and special promotions aimed at kids. Let's take a high-level look at a few recent products attempting to focus on this area of the hobby:

Upper Deck Power Up! baseball ($1.99 SRP) may be the best current product for very young kids with a base set of only 100 cards, 4 parallel variations using the "rare" terminology that became so common with Pokemon cards and 2 basic insert sets. In addition, kids can collect points from packs that they can then use toward collectibles from Upper Deck. This set would be recommended as a good way to introduce very young kids to collecting.

Topps Bazooka baseball ($2.00 SRP) is another good product that's on the right track by being geared toward the young collector. With a base set of 330 cards, it still provides a relatively easy option for completing a set. Plus, kids get to relive the old days of collecting with a piece of sugarless chewing gum included in every pack. However, this product has its problems such as the insertion of two parallels in a single pack. Often, a very young collector is confused by all of these inserts, numbered cards, ratios and, most of all, parallels. Therefore, this set would be recommended for pre-teen collectors.

Topps Total baseball also makes a valid attempt with its inexpensive price ($1.00 SRP) and regular base set that generally avoids the short-printed card craze. However, although it is a good start, the base set is way too large at 880 cards - 88 more than the standard size of Topps sets throughout the 1980s. A young collector would have to buy over 88 packs to complete a set and that estimate does not include the doubles they are likely to get. Due to the size of this set and the amount of money that would be needed to complete a set, this product would be recommended for teenage collectors.

Even with this limited number of kid-friendly, low-end products on the market, kids are no different than adults in that they want to be able to pull good cards. However, kids can't really afford to pay for a higher-priced pack just for the chance to get a good card. While there is some value in kids learning the important lesson of being satisfied with what they can afford, there must be a position somewhere in the middle?

Not all products need to appeal to young collectors. However with dozens and dozens of products coming out each year, it is reasonable to expect that a handful of those products would be geared toward the young collector. Card manufacturers should not be looking to make significant money on these products - that is what the mid- and high-end products will continue to provide. Instead, these products should be viewed as an investment into their company's future.

The card manufacturers need to put out products with a $1.00 SRP per pack, a base set that has a maximum of 300 cards and about 2-3 quality insert sets. Packs of these products need to be made readily available in retail stores or right next to candy bars in grocery stores and gas stations - everywhere a kid is likely to go. This will allow young kids to buy enough packs to complete a base set, give them a sense of accomplishment when they do complete it, and most importantly, provide some nice inserts and doubles that give them the excitement of a good pull and the opportunity to trade cards.

Trading is one of the best things in the hobby and it's time that "trading" be put back into trading cards. The more that trading is encouraged, the more enjoyment the young collector will have - despite their limited budget - and the more they will want to stay involved in the hobby. In addition, trading can teach kids to better communicate and work with each other, to be fair and honest with others and to take responsibility to make sure that they hold up their end of any deal. All of these qualities are important to learn at an early age and can be learned at the same time that they're having fun with trading cards.

As card manufacturers attract more kids, more trading will naturally go on between them in the backyard, at the playground or on the porch. However, the manufacturers should get more involved in the promotion of trading, either at local hobby shops, through the support of safe online trading communities or even possibly with the company directly. For example, send the company 3 of your doubles and get 1 card of your choice, whether it be the card needed to complete a base set or an insert of a young collector's favorite player.

By grabbing a kid when they are young with an affordable and appealing product and then encouraging them to be active in the hobby through trading, the hobby will add many more long-term collectors and continue to grow. It's time that the hobby, and card manufacturers in particular, make a serious effort to develop the next generation of collectors, and if it happens, everyone will surely benefit.


About the author
Dave Baran, the Baseball Sheriff at SportsCardSheriff.com, has been collecting strictly baseball cards for ten years. His other hobbies besides collecting Jody Gerut are playing baseball and basketball, running cross country and playing the guitar.

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