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Friday, April 11, 2014

BBM Team Sets: Has their time passed? Or should Topps take this up?

I feel like this year's first offering for team sets (see yesterday's post) is pretty weak - no parallels, a small checklist with only one simple subset, and pretty basic insert and autograph offerings. And the other set released last month isn't better (post coming soon). On the other hand, if BBM is putting more effort into some good topical sets this year I'll gladly take the trade; I think team sets are generally good only for team collectors and they'll probably buy products with even a simpler configuration like this.
I wonder if BBM is in the process of phasing out team sets in the pack-based format. On one hand, they are created for very specific collectors - fans of that team. But these sets provide an opportunity for lesser-known members of the team, and those currently playing in the ni-gun (minor league) system, to get their own cards. Without team sets, many of the players I've seen in games over the past two years wouldn't have cards, because they haven't appeared in the 1st or 2nd Version sets.

If BBM does eliminate the pack-based arrangement, I hope they still issue comprehensive team sets in box form or include a very broad range of players throughout 1st and 2nd Versions, and issue more topical (such as No-Hitters and Foreigners) and thematic (throwback, art, chrome, etc, like Topps does) pack-based sets. Of course, this is purely speculative.
Speaking of 1st and 2nd Version, the two series together usually total 650 or more cards. With 12 teams, each team gets about 50-60 cards or more. Unfortunately, many of those cards are the same players over and over - a star will have a base card in each version, possibly a 1st Version Update card in the 2nd Version, Award, Best Nine, Gold Glove, and possibly other subset cards. Then, 24 cards are team checklists. So the actual checklist of players featured for any given team is probably in the 20s, with the main active roster.

If BBM were to approach base set building similar to Topps' flagship, with stars spread between both series and only a partial checklist for each team, they could include more of the lower-tier players in the flagship set. The Swallows have 68 players on their roster; if every player on every roster (including the development squad) were included in the flagship set, assuming each team has 68 players, that would be 816 cards (plus 12 managers). BBM could easily add a third "version" in place of the 12 team sets, issue a 900-card set that could still have about 25 subset cards per release (team checklists? first pitch?) plus a few properly themed insert sets (All-Stars, Gold Glove, Best 9, etc).

Next year will be BBM's 25th anniversary. It would be great to hear of some things being reworked. If BBM reduced the total number of issues but made them more interesting, they might see better sales.
Of course, I'm probably not BBM's target customer; like Topps they essentially cater to the lottery players hoping for the big pull. And the more sets that a company can release, the more packs people will want to bust for the big hits.

But what about keeping team sets? I like these, as I said, because I can find cards of players who otherwise wouldn't get cards. I think they're a great place to try throwback designs (or do team collectors not like them?) or insert some innovative special cards, though BBM tends to severely limit the quantity of die-cut, acetate, or otherwise special cards. I just feel like BBM misses a lot of opportunities with the inserts and subsets it includes in its sets.
Would this work for Topps? Yes, they issue small retail team sets every year. But more and more collectors are not set collectors anymore, focusing on teams or players. The popularity of group breaks is a good indicator of this. What if Topps issued larger (90-100 card) pack-based sets for each team? They could issue one common design among all the teams, using different color combinations for each team. Keeping the price low and print run reasonable, it could be issued regionally with hobby stores having the ability to buy boxes.

Topps could insert a basic autographed set, a single parallel set, and one or two insert sets themed around the team's accomplishments the prior year. They have a license for MiLB, and I would fully support the integration of minor league cards into this set, showing minor league logos and uniforms; perhaps the checklist would include the 40-man roster plus an additional 40-50 promising players from the organization. Round out the set with a team-by-team prior year statistics card with a team photo on the front, some team leader cards, and some season highlights.

I'm just thinking out loud, of course. But what do you think? Would Topps find success with a pack-based team set? Should BBM keep its team sets, expand the players in the flagship set, or just drop team sets all together?


  1. I think it would be interesting if Topps produced team based sets in pack form, but had collectors pre-order them. That way the market wouldn't be flooded with teams in less demand. Plus if only 500 A's collectors order them, then it might actually create some demand for them later on down the road. Then again... I'm just thinking out loud, of course ;-)

    1. I like the pre-order idea. I was thinking along the lines of something like eTopps did, but just in regular card form. I wonder how many Marlins sets would be created. Five? I'd want a card from every set, of course, but since Topps would charge $3-5 per pack I couldn't afford to get a single pack of each team, let alone an entire box.

  2. It might work for Topps if they did it as an online exclusive, but even then I'm not sure. Topps has tried extended team sets before, and it didn't take off... I don't know that having it in pack form would make any difference.

    ...But if they made a reasonably-priced set, I'd consider it. Back in 2007, there was a 55-card Mets box set that I gladly bought for $20. The next year they did a similar set but included an autograph and priced it (if I remember correctly) at $50. I didn't get one, and I don't think they've done it since.

    1. I think the key for things like this is, as you say, "reasonably priced" because most team fans don't want to put down $50 for a set of cards. Team *collectors* are another bunch all together.

  3. Obviously the main obstacle to Topps doing a team set featuring all the players on contract to a team is that each MLB team has five or so minor league teams so we're at 125-150 cards if every player has their own card. But doing just the 40 man roster and maybe the top 20 prospects makes that a lot more manageable.

    I've had the same thoughts as you in regards to the sizes of the BBM team sets this year. I wonder, though, if this is just BBM's way of consolidating the sets down to what the customers really want. Previously, the sets were usually 99 cards (or more in the case of the Giants and Tigers) of which roughly 70 would be the players, manager and mascot and the remaining 30 or so were checklists, subsets (usually with some theme like "New Face" or "Veterans") and multi-card puzzles for a particular player. This year's sets still have the same number of player/manager/mascot cards but have cut the subsets down to only 10-20 cards (or 0 in the case of the Hawks since that set includes the 20 or so ikusei players).

    This is similar to some extent to what has happened with the OB team sets. For the longest time, you knew any team anniversary set was going to be 99 cards. In the past year though we've seen three sets at 81 cards (Baystars 20th, Dragons Legend and Orix 25th) and one at 90 (Eagles 10th).

    So I guess I don't think that BBM is going to phase out the team sets but I do think that they are trying to figure out the best way to produce them at a lower cost - which is probably why the parallels are gone.

    What's going to be interesting is to watch the fight between BBM and Front Runner over the 20-30 card team specific box set. I find it difficult to believe that there is going to be that much demand for two or three of these box sets a year for a particular team, especially if that team is not the Giants or the Tigers.

    1. Including all of a MLB team's organization isn't really possible, as you say.

      I have noticed the parallels tend to be priced the same or just a little higher than the base cards, which means collectors just don't really care. But without crunching numbers it seems that they are printed at about the same quantity as the base cards (possibly half?) because they're partial parallels that fall one per pack.

      Seeing Front Runner do box sets for the BayStars and Buffaloes, I think they're hitting an area that BBM tends to ignore. Yes, the Buffaloes got a set for the anniversary this year, but if Front Runner produces boxes for the teams that BBM ignores, they're filling a niche. But I think the Carp ended up with about 5 box sets last year. I almost never see BBM BayStars team sets in stores, so they must be quite popular in Tokyo... or just not stocked.