An April Fools’ joke two months early
I’m not trying to turn this blog completely negative. Really, I’m not. But when these stories present themselves, they get little attention from the big names in collecting news. That leaves it up to the little guys to capture these moments for posterity and make sure that they become part of the historical record. In this case, Topps has set a precedent that could completely undermine the entire hobby. It almost certainly won’t go that far, but the lack of any notable backlash seems to have demonstrated that there is no obligation to deliver what is promised in a pack of cards.
Last year, Topps introduced the Spring Fever promotion with 2013 Topps Series 1. This was the first of many promotions designed to get people to spend more time at their local hobby shops. Spring Fever redemption cards were inserted into packs at a rate of one per hobby box (regular or jumbo). If you had a participating hobby shop near you, you could redeem the card for a special 5-card pack of Spring Fever cards, which contained an assortment of cards from the 50-card set plus 32 different autograph cards randomly inserted. For those without local hobby shops, they could sell the redemption cards for about $2 each, a nice little bonus out of each box (something usually referred to as “added value”).
The Spring Fever cards themselves were quite nice. Even though the photographs were mostly just the same photographs used in the base Topps set, the metallic foil and new background design made them really stand out in a sea of colored border parallels. The cards look even better scanned, just like the 2012 Topps Archives gold parallels. For a Mets collector, having David Wright and Jeurys Familia in the base set wasn’t all that bad. The set itself was a mix of rookies, stars, and retired greats, making it a fun set to put together. On top of that, the autographs, while on stickers, were a nice bonus for the price. I bought 10 extra redemption cards and pulled the Markakis auto shown above, which sold for almost as much as I paid for the redemption cards (I probably could have gotten more if I had sold the unopened packs though…). It was hard not to like this new promotion.
2013 Topps Series 1 delivered considerable value beyond the cards in the packs. In addition to the Spring Fever redemptions, Topps also continued its tradition of wrapper redemptions in 2013 Series 1. Wrappers from a box of cards would get you a 5-card Silver Slate pack, which contained a mix of blue sparkle parallels, framed silver parallels numbered to 10, and autographs. Luck was on my side in these, delivering three of the cards above in the four packs I sent in for (I had to buy the Familia). The Machado and Kipnis each sold for about $30, not bad for a few bonus packs.
And that brings us to 2014 Topps Series 1. Like last year, Spring Fever redemption cards were back at the same insertion rate. No announcements were made about wrapper redemptions, which Topps seemed to be phasing out anyway. Then something strange happened when people started opening packs – they couldn’t find the Spring Fever redemption cards. Box after box, case after case, thousands of packs were opened on launch day without a single Spring Fever redemption card being pulled. Usually, this would be a sign of something being a retail exclusive, but that wouldn’t make sense for a hobby store promotion. Something was wrong. Then Topps confirmed it: Spring Fever redemption cards weren’t in packs of 2014 Topps Series 1.
@brentandbecca no. No promo cards this year for it. But we will have it. Details coming soon
— Topps Company (@toppscards) January 29, 2014
With no wrapper redemption planned, switching the Spring Fever to a wrapper redemption would at least ensure that the people who were shorted the redemption cards could still get the packs (or get some money for the wrappers). Topps however also confirmed that there would be no wrapper redemption for 2014 Topps Series 1. No redemption cards, no wrapper redemption, how was Topps going to make things right? As it turned out, all would be made right for a price.
Topps would later reduce the cost of a Spring Fever promo pack from 18 packs to 16 packs. What a bargain! For only the cost of 16 hobby packs, or about $32, collectors could get something that was supposed to be in a box they already spent $70-100 on two months ago. I suppose you also get the cards in the packs for that price, but the value of a two month old product just isn’t what it used to be. And of course there’s the little bit about how collectors already bought a ton of this stuff two months ago with the promise of Spring Fever packs. But was it really a promise? Let’s take a look at the wrapper.
If you read the fine print, near the end of the fourth line you’ll see the odds of a Spring Fever Redemption card in a hobby jumbo pack at 1:10, or one per hobby jumbo box on average (odds for regular hobby packs are 1:36 with 36 packs per box). That’s not a guarantee that one will be in any particular pack or even a sealed box. It could be argued that it isn’t any sort of guarantee at all. But if that is the case, what about all of the other cards with listed odds? Can Topps get away with leaving all of those out too and charging more later for the chance to get them? Either Topps is obligated to meet the insertion rates printed on their product or they are free to ignore them, there’s no middle ground. Since nothing has happened to Topps for their failure to deliver Spring Fever redemption cards, we are left to assume that pack odds are not in any way binding and can freely be ignored by manufacturers. That is a disturbing concept.
Luckily, while it seems that Topps is under no obligation to deliver what their product promises, hobby shops are under no obligation to follow the specific rules regarding the distribution of promo packs (well, they may technically have an obligation, but Topps has no way to enforce it unless the shops do something stupid like listing promotional items on eBay). Many shops are doing the right thing and are giving the packs to customers who they know deserve them or are at least making them available for more than just purchases of the now outdated 2014 Topps Series 1.
This may be the last we see of this problem. Or it could only be the beginning. In any case, it should not be ignored and forgotten. Major League Baseball may have sold out to Topps, but that doesn’t mean that we have to stand by silently and watch Topps disrespect collectors and the hobby. Topps is not and will never be the hobby, no matter what their arrogance leads them to believe.