Topps “Now” Card Program

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As Mark wrote about in Entry 4 of his 10-part series on the Topps baseball-card monopoly, a breakthrough in card design – although not always executed well at first – was the introduction of action photography in 1971.

It took 45 years, but Topps found a way to enhance the experience of viewing action cards, by letting fans choose the specific plays they wanted to immortalize, and do so with quick turnaround from order to delivery.

In 2016, Topps began its “Now” program, allowing fans to order specially made cards capturing action images of noteworthy events on the diamond, generally no-hitters and important home-runs. The idea is that, once a significant (in some fans’ minds, at least) development occurs, customers have 24 hours to go online and purchase an action-shot card of the milestone (as long as Topps has decided to make one).

I first heard of the Now program via this article on the runaway demand for a Now card of Bartolo Colon hitting his first major-league homer on May 7. According to the article, Topps “sold 8,826 cards of the 42-year-old pitcher hitting a home run on Saturday. The card went on sale at 11:30 a.m. ET on Sunday and stopped production exactly 24 hours later.”

Before the Colon card, the biggest-selling card (Jake Arrieta’s second career no-hitter) had attracted 1,808 purchases.

In August 2016, the sales figure for the Colon homer card was eclipsed by the Now card for Ichiro’s 3,000th hit, which sold 11,550 copies.

As a Cubs fan, I decided to look into Now cards commemorating the team’s World Series victory. Topps made several individual cards and sets available, with a one-week ordering window instead of the usual 24 hours.

I zeroed in on a single card, showing the Cubs’ celebratory gathering in the infield, immediately following the final out, which carried a $9.99 price tag. I’m pretty frugal, so $10 for one baseball card seemed a lot. But then I asked myself, “How often do the Cubs win the World Series?” and the decision to purchase a card became obvious.

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The card took about two weeks to arrive and came enclosed in a clear plastic case, not a flat one, but one big enough to hold a deck of playing cards. The back of the card contained a paragraph-length summary of the series, with an emphasis on Game 7. I would have preferred a more data-laden back (like regular baseball cards), such as a listing of scores of all of the Cubs’ 2016 post-season games. I can’t complain, though.

The Now program seems like an excellent way for fans to celebrate their favorite players’ and teams’ accomplishments, including those on the quirkier side, such as when a certain aging, not-so-svelte pitcher goes deep.

Author: alanreifman

Professor at Texas Tech University and author of "Hot Hand: The Statistics Behind Sports' Greatest Streaks."

8 thoughts on “Topps “Now” Card Program”

  1. I genuinely like the Topps Now concept. I genuinely was upset with the way Topps executed the concept. To me, Topps favored specific players and teams over great or rare feats.

    I will not rant here about it, but the fact is that David Ortiz got more cards than 8 teams did. The Diamondbacks received only 2 cards, and the Rays only got three. If you are interested in reading what degenerated into a bit of a rant on the numbers, I blogged about it here: https://offhiatusbaseball.blogspot.com/2016/11/topps-now-numbers.html

    I am hearing rumors in collecting circles that every game will have a card this coming season. If true, I hope that Topps offers a season subscription price break — say $500 for a full season of your team’s cards. Otherwise, at $10 a pop, it will be much more money than a lot of collectors will want to spend.

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    1. EVERYONE WE SPOKE WITH FELT THIS TOO HIGH A PRICE WAS MUCH TOO MUCH AND AS YOU MENTIONED THERE ARE FEW WHO CAN AFFORD TO PAY $ 10.00 EVEN IF ONLY BUYING CARDS OF FAVOURITE TEAM PLAYERS …

      TOPPS SHOULD HAVE HAD A SUBSCRIPTION DEAL WHERE YOU RECEIVED ALL THE CARDS THEN WOULD HAVE EXTRAS TO TRADE OR SELL TO THOSE WHO NEED EXTRAS OR WERE NOT SUBSCRIBING …

      HOPEFULLY, IN NEW SEASON THEY WILL DO SOMETHING SMARTER BUT KNOWING TOPPS OVER 60+ YEARS THAT IS A LOT TO ASK.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. What cards would you have selected for the D’Backs and the Rays? What did they do this past season that was worth noting? They did nothing to make it worth while talking about.

      As for the $10 there is another option. Many dealers purchase lots of the NOW crads and they then become available on Ebay for $5-$6 with free shipping. At least it some kind of break from the $10.

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      1. George, seemingly every Red Sox/Cubs/Mets walk-off win got a Topps Now card. The D-backs had 8 walk-off wins and got two total: one for Zack Greinke’s 3-hit shutout for career win #150 on June 7 and Paul Goldschmidt’s walk-off HR on August 22.

        The Rays had three cards, and that counted Matt Moore being on the “Traded” card for guys like him and Jonathan Lucroy who were traded at the deadline. The Rays had 3 walk-off wins, none of which were featured on a Topps Card.

        My Brewers had 6 cards, and that’s if you include Prince Fielder’s retirement as one (officially listed as Rangers) and Lucroy on the traded card. The Brewers turned two triple plays and had one walk-off win, and only the second triple play was featured on a card.

        To say a team did “nothing to make it worth while talking about” is to discount the fact that there are potential card collectors who are fans of every single team in MLB. If Topps is trying to grow the hobby for the future and maximize its own bottom line at the same time, there has to be a recognition of that fact.

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  2. Nice, the World Series Winner card is the also the only one I finally broke down and bought for myself. If you’re a Cubs fan, despite the boatload of available options over the course of the year, it is perhaps the only one you’d ever truly *need*.

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  3. I think what complainers are missing, however, is the financial windfall the Topps Now product is for the company. Instead of mass-producing cards to be available in thousands of Wal-Marts, Targets, card shops, etc., throughout North America, Topps simply produced to demand, receiving payment BEFORE printing. At $10 per card (rounding up), Topps received gross revenue of thousands of dollars each day all season. Take September 19 for an example. Topps sold 1,422 Now baseball cards that day, which is $14,222. If this one day was simply the average over 180 MLB calendar days, Topps grossed over $2.5M in six months. Not only was it a new product model, but Topps created a new baseball card market as a result. Did anyone see the 65th anniversary Transcendent Collection that was priced at $22,000? Topps sold out of the 65 printings in a week. That’s $1.43M in one week. Would I be surprised if Topps’ Now baseball product increased to more card offerings per day? No, because it’s a cash cow right now, and the sports card market has always led to saturation. But, maybe, just maybe, Topps learned their lesson from the early ’90s immediate card devaluation era, and will not saturate, will not overproduce, not overmarket.

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    1. Topps has saturated the market with the dozens of parallels in every set and the multiple usage of the same design and photo over and over. I counted, and if a player appeared in series 1 and every other possible set, then Topps printed SEVENTY versions of the exact same photo and card design. 70.

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