Now Here’s a Dumb Idea: Start a Trading Card Company

We can do better than this.

If you’re around me long enough, you’ll hear at least one of what I call “Awesome or Awful Ideas”.  Yesterday was a very slow day at work, so I was watching Jack of All Trades on Netflix.  The movie, plus a lot of free time “on the clock” yesterday triggered one of these ideas.

Start a Trading Card Company
What would it take to start a card company?
1. Team or league licensing agreements
2. Photographer or photo licensing
3. Designer
4. Manufacturer for printing & packaging
5. Distribution
1. One of the things about baseball up here in New England, is that there are a lot of teams and leagues operating outside of Major/Minor League Baseball.  Three summer college leagues, a couple Atlantic and Can-Am League teams just south of Connecticut.  So while the dream scenario is to be the mega millionaire to crack Topps‘ MLB/MiLB stranglehold, the real deal is to jump in at a smaller level.  Be a big, lonely fish, in a small pond.
The college teams very rarely have team card sets, and the leagues never have card sets available.  In fact, I own and have reviewed every card that has ever been released for the Cape Cod Baseball League.  There are no card sets (that I’m aware of) for NECBL teams, and the Brockton Rox haven’t hard a set since they self-demoted out of the Can-Am into the Futures League.  
The last time the Cape Cod League had cards.

For the college teams, it’s difficult to self produce cards.  Rosters aren’t completed until right before the season, and seasons are very short.  To get the cards turned around with that year’s players in their summer league uniform is incredibly difficult.  But for a company to come in and release the previous year’s team with stats, particularly for the Cape League, I believe would have significant collector appeal.  It may be speculative, collectors trying to grab pre-debut cards for those guys that will eventually turn into the next Frank Thomas.

To come in to the CCBL or the Futures or the NECBL with a deal to produce team sets or even a league set would either be a very easy or very difficult deal to negotiate, as it’s a thing that none of these teams are doing right now.  What would it take for a new company to come in and add a new product to these teams’ merchandise lines?
2 & 3. When the only two Cape Cod League sets were released, being able to design a card was a very special skill to have.  It required some tools that the average person didn’t have at their disposal.  But in an era when a high school kid can shoot, edit and release a movie with his phone, the idea of designing a set of baseball cards is almost adorably nostalgic.  We wouldn’t need a photographer with thousands of dollars of equipment.  We wouldn’t need a design team with access to enterprise level hardware.  Push comes to shove, I take my phone to the park, take pictures with my Galaxy S9, dump them onto my computer and throw them into a template I designed in PhotoShop.
Without the constraints of MLB/MiLB digital asset agreements, it would be pretty easy, one would think, to come to an agreement with a team, talk to their photographer for photo rights, and start editing cards.
4. Choice seems to have the market cornered on minor league & indie ball team sets.  But, not only do they produce sets for teams, they also sell the service of manufacturing and packaging cards.  Custom Trading Cards also manufactures and packages trading cards, which means that being, essentially, a boutique set manufacturer is possible without having access to hardcore printing machines.
The manufacturers have priced the cards at an incredibly affordable price, too.  Super short runs come in at less than 15cents a card.  Spread the cost of any team or photographer licensing agreements across the cards, and you can produce a set at a very reasonable price. 
20 cards in a set with 1000 sets printed comes out to $2.20 per set.  With packaging and licensing, you can probably keep the cost under $4 per set.  
Richie Franklin and his team have released 4 beautiful WFL card sets.

5. Teams are the best avenue for distribution.  They have foot traffic at every game, and there’s no reason they wouldn’t carry their own set.  But there are also some unique distribution points that may not have been available to small publishers in the 80’s or 90’s.  But, there are some retailers that either specialize in or carry significant stock of non-MLB baseball cards.  The esoteric marketing value of summer college or indie ball teams fits in the same book as collectors who focus on Japanese or Latin baseball cards, or the football collectors who chase USFL, XFL and AAF cards.

There is a draw, I think, to small sets, sets that collectors can completely collect.  I also believe there is a draw to sets with players and teams.

Obviously, this is a condensed, elementary sketch of thinking about talking to a team about putting out their team card set.  But how many steps are there between the idea and the execution?
Author: paul

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