Not only is the hobby's marketplace shrinking, but those in the game are disappearing too. They might not be going under completely (yet), but with the trend toward exclusive deals one-sport collectors are losing some of the long-standing brands they came to know and collect. But does it have to be that way? I think it'd be a win-win for everyone involved, from collectors to manufacturers and everyone in between, to consider something a little radical - teaming up and co-producing sets.
Here's how it'd work. Let's take Upper Deck Goudey Baseball as an example. Seeing as how Upper Deck isn't in the baseball game at all right now, 2010 Goudey isn't going to happen. At the same time Topps is working hard to re-brand National Chicle as a nostalgic art brand similar to what Goudey was for Upper Deck. So what if Topps borrowed the Goudey brand from Upper Deck, worked with Upper Deck as a contractor and released Topps Goudey instead of going through all the work of hoping a brand will catch on and adopt an identity for a few years.
The pros for Topps are they're getting a proven brand with a recognized following. Costs might also be a bit lower in that they're sub-contracting some of the work out. Ultimately Topps would have to sign off on it and add their brands to the packaging and they'd be the ones collecting the money at the end of the day. They also don't have to create a copycat brand to fill a hole left by a departing competitor and hope that collectors latch onto it. The industry proves every year that they'd rather take the safe road than risks. I respect this philosophy, even if it frustrates me at times, so this plays right into the conservative logic.
The pros for Upper Deck are that the brand they hold still remains in the public eye. That way, should they regain a license or look to expand into another sport, the name is still fresh in collectors' minds. Plus, Upper Deck is gaining some income from their trademark.
For collectors, they get the continuity that keeps a collection going. Often in today's hobby, there's lots of stopping and going resulting in gaps. I know these drive me nuts. Plus, the brands don't even need to change that much. Keep the spirit of the original product with the same people working on it as well, at least as consultants.
The obvious downside is that competitors don't often like working with one another. Even if Topps is the only kid on the block making licensed baseball cards, Upper Deck is ultimately still a competitor, as is Panini, In the Game, Rittenhouse Archives and even small manufacturers like 5finity and MonsterWax. For the big players in the hobby, there'd probably need to be some reconciliation. But at the end of the day, don't they all speak the same thing: $$$.
I've used the example of Goudey Baseball to illustrate my point but it's not limited to that. Imagine Upper Deck getting another chance to sub-contract to Panini to make SP Authentic and Exquisite Football? Or Upper Deck getting the go-ahead to actually use vintage Topps designs with O-Pee-Chee Hockey.
Such partnerships aren't unheard of in the hobby. A couple of years ago Rittenhouse Archives made several excellent sets based on Marvel Comics properties on behalf of Upper Deck. I don't know the logistics of it all but Upper Deck seemed to have the license and Rittenhouse made the sets. Why couldn't this work in sports as well?
With this scenario I want to see the producers stay out to some extent. Act like a Hollywood producer who puts up the assets but holds filmmakers accountable for their work. So be hands on but let the partner maintain the brand's identity. This is the key for success. Taking Goudey and adding silver autograph stickers would kill the brand faster than Randy Johnson's fastball blowing up a seagull.
I don't know if there's legal holdups that wouldn't allow for such a scenario to happen. I'm just trying to get creative. I haven't looked into anyone's accounting books so I can't exactly where some manufacturers are at. But there are some signs that would point in the direction that some are doing better than others. So do what you must to survive and if you're hanging in there like Ford, there's no better time than to capitalize and make a little more money. So suck it up and shake hands, men.