I think that the licensing bodies of the major sports leagues got it right and wrong when they decided to make changes to reduce the amount of product being released.
Obviously, the glut of releases, many of which were virtually indistinguishable from one another, was a negative factor on the hobby. The vast majority of collectors, I'd tend to think, have either elf- or family-imposed spending limits when it comes to what they can spend of trading cards. Nothing wrong with that at all....but I don't think the decisions made by the licensing bodies did much to alleviate that.
What the bodies did, of course, is to reduce the number of licensees. What they SHOULD have done is limit the number of releases and, beyond that, strongly suggested a price structure for product.
Here's what I would have done:
Open the bidding for a license to produce cards of every sport to a maximum of FOUR companies per sport and no less than TWO (sorry, UD- no hockey monopoly for you!). Competition between manufacturers is what will drive innovation, quality and, with luck, future value. If a company has no competition at all, how likely is it to put the focus on meeting their customer's needs? After all, if you're the only company performing a given task and that task is either needed or desired by the public, the public has really no alternative than to accept whatever you give them or do without. If you're a collector, you WANT competition between the manufacturers so as to give you the greatest chance of seeing truly innovative and fresh product.
Now...about that limit on releases and price structure:
Each company would be limited to SIX total releases, including updates (like say Bowman Prospects BB), but NOT including a series 2 release of the base brands, plus TWO hobby-only releases and ONE retail-only release. Note that manufacturers could elect to make any number of their original eight permitted releases to be either hobby- or retail-only. If there are four licensees in a given sport, that means a maximum of 36 different products- a significant reduction form the 90+ in 2005.
I could also be convinced to add a set of retired players (like UD Timeless Teams) by each manufacturer.
Price points have been constantly rising to the point where it wouldn't surprise me if the average price of a pack is around $8-$10, even if you exclude stuff like Exquisite and The Cup (and please- EXCLUDE THEM!). Product at the lower end of the spectrum has virtually no future collecting value- not true in all cases but certainly in many. You have a much higher chance of a quality pull in the super-super-premium category- at $15/pack+- than you do in lower price points (again, not always but very often). So a kid with $50 to spend either buys a box of something that probably has little to no value, but he gets to open 20 or even 30 packs and get far more cards, or he can buy 3 packs of high-priced stuff totalling, what, maybe 9-15 cards? and hope for the big hit. Increasingly, there's nothing between the two extremes.
Here's what I'd do:
Establish a series of price points in which manufacturers are required to produce a product. Those price points would be:
<$1.99 (entry product such as Total or MVP)- preferably 99 cents
$1.99-$2.99 (base brand like UD or Topps)
$2.99-$4.99 (premium brand)
$4.99-$9.99 (super premium)
>$9.99 (luxury brand)
I'd like to see boxes at the lower end of the spectrum have 24-36 packs so as to give collectors in tha trange the maximum pack-popping enjoyment. That shouldn't be a problem with the entry level, even at 36 packs, though you might have to go with 20-24 in the second tier.
Boxes at higher price points could have any number of packs- even only one. It's the job of the manufacturer to convince you that you're getting value from paying $300 dollars for one pack of 5 cards.
So, of the nine total products each manufacturer is permitted, they would be required to fit one in each of these five categories. Chances are that the retail-only release would be at the lower end of the price point scale due to theft concerns, so there would be even more moderately-priced product for collectors who do not have bottomless pockets.
Each manufacturer would still have two hobby-only releases and one regular release that they could price in any category they chose, so you could still see Exquisite, Bowman Sterling, etc. But what you wouldn't see is an overabundance of very high price point product and a dearth of more affordable stuff.
But wait- it could get even better as regards value.
If a manufacturer is relying on the same quantity of premium insert materials- GU stuff, autos, etc.- that he originally had planned to disperse between 20 or 30 brands and now can allocate that same amount over less than ten brands, the chances of getting these inserts should go up. Not only that, but the chances of getting premium inserts- auto'ed patches or whatever- in higher price point product should increase because there is now only, say, three luxury releases instead of six or eight in which to seed them. And there's always the chance that the lowest price point stuff might see better inserts too.
My goal here is to preserve the long-lost 'art' of set collecting as well as to rein in the massive increases in price points we've seen over the past number of years. When a set has 200 cards in it and the packs from which you get 2 or 3 singles cost $15/each, how many peope are going to really try to build that set? Commons would go for $3-$5 each! Insanity! Also, don't focus soley on the well-heeled collectors with bottomless pockets. While they spend a ton of money on product each, there are far more people who can spend $50 on a box than can spend $1500 on a pack. If you want to target the rich folks, that's fine- but don't forget the little guy.