The modern trend of guaranteed hits has created some amount of collector exhaustion from pulling “hits” of minimal value featuring subpar players.1 Now, this isn’t always the case but it is for a good chunk of the time. Sure, there are those ultra rare instances that exist when someone pulls a Babe Ruth cut signature or a Superfractor of a superstar. These things do happen but we have to remember that these encounters are few and far between. A lot of the time, we’re stuck with generic relic cards of low to no value players. This has left a lot of collectors getting their fix in other ways – buying into box breaks to grab their favorite team cards, buying singles on the secondary market, etc.
This isn’t good news for hobby shops but it does pose an opportunity. Hobby Shops can still maintain relevance by offering in-store promotions and utilizing social media. That’s a topic for another time, however. For now, let’s focus on how collectors prefer to pull hits in the current market.
The global collecting mindset has chanced from the days when hand collating base sets was the popular thing to do. Collectors now want immediate results for their investments, which is why the modern format of guaranteed hits is trending.
Out of curiosity, I wanted to know how collectors in 2019 felt about this so I posed a question and surveyed the market on social media. The survey ran for a few days in early January, 2019 and collected 40 responses. Here’s the question and associated results:
Do you think companies should replace the modern strategy of guaranteed hits of often minimal value and subpar talent with that of astronomical insertion ratios of cards of guaranteed value and HOF-caliber talent?
While the results indicate a statistically significant preference toward ultra scarce inserts much like the way they were during the Donruss Elite era of the early 1990s, it’s no surprise over a quarter of the responses indicated a desire to keep things as they are. Folks want ROI2 immediately and as an investor, I understand and respect that. However, for those of us who don’t need anymore Ryan Dempster or Dan Uggla relic cards, it’d be nice to know the hits we pull are actually worth keeping. Both release formats possess merit.
Before we dig into this, I need to make something very clear that may be obvious to many – the companies that produce trading cards are in business for one reason – to make money. It’s cut and dry, sure, but what differentiates average companies from great ones is how they make their money.
Note: Without getting into the nuts and bolts of complex factors such as profit margins, stakeholder equity, and brand stability, we’ll be talking from the customer perspective.*
Strategy A: Guaranteed Hits per Box
Validated Spending: When collectors are guaranteed at least some form of return – AU or Relic card(s) – this promise acts as a draw, a marketing strategy. If the promise is returned in the form of something low value, eventually buyers will get smart and shop elsewhere. This strategy is based on short-term gains. Smart companies will find ways to deliver a similar promise with stronger long-term potential.
Expanded (but still reasonable) Insertion Ratios: Clear definitions help refine expectations.
At B when X happens, C happens with Y
In the above formula,
- B = item quantity
- X = level of financial commitment
- C = return promise
- Y = item
In my experience, the so-called case hit has trended in popularity.3 When a card is a case hit, it’s no longer a box guarantee, which tends to brighten attention, especially when the card is pulled. And because the insertion ratio is wider, the item in question is usually of significant monetary and player value.
The case hit allows for just enough return validation to keep the purchase exciting without feeling like you’re wasting your money. When the return promise isn’t clear is when things get a bit fuzzy.
Strategy B: Astronomical Insertion Ratios
There was a time when this sorta thing was how inserts made their way to market. That time really began in 1990 with the 1990 Upper Deck Reggie Jackson AU and continued through the decade until inserts were littered all throughout the hobby making their desirability somewhat passé. Thing is, even to this day, that Reggie AU is still one of the most sought after by collectors, and there are 2500 of them!
To see the current eBay auctions for the 1990 Upper Deck Reggie Jackson AU, click here.
Due to production output, insertion ratios had to be high just to be possible.
Think about that last sentence. Reread it if you have to. If nothing else, insertion ratios should be at least possible. If that 1990 Upper Deck Reggie AU had a print run of 5, it wouldn’t be enough to capture market interest because pulling one of the 5 would be so unlikely, it would hurt sales. Cards can still be inserted at an incredibly scarce rate and still influence conversion rates.4 When something is near impossible to happen, it makes headlines whether they be personal or public when it does.
Not everyone wants to open 10 cases of 1990 Upper Deck just to chance the possibility of pulling the Reggie AU. First of all, it’s a ton of work. It’s not all that dissimilar from what it would take to pull a 1990 Topps Frank Thomas NNOF. These are aggressive resource consumers both in time and money.
This is one of the reasons why the modern strategy of guaranteeing hits on a per box basis helps drive conversion rates. People wanna see a return for their resources. But as we’ve seen from our results, the majority of collectors today want an option that will allow them the possibility of pulling something worth keeping. It appears that most collectors would rather not be guaranteed that Victor Martinez relic card but instead a slim chance at pulling that Ty Cobb cut signature even if it means opening a lot more boxes. Guaranteed to be stuck with something you don’t want / can’t sell is far worse than spending quite a bit more for only a chance at pulling something with significant long term collectibility and value.
- A hit is a key card in a pack, box, or case. It’s what attracts collectors to the checkout. ↩︎
- Return on investment ↩︎
- A case hit is a type of card that’s inserted once per case of boxes. The number of boxes often range from 6-20. A box can contain anywhere from 1-36 packs. Each pack can contain anywhere from 1-15 cards. ↩︎
- Conversion Rate is the process when a prospect becomes a buyer, or when a customer completes a transaction. ↩︎