Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Topps And NPB

You've probably already heard the news that Topps issued a press release today saying that they had entered into a licensing agreement with NPB to produce baseball cards for the league.  The release specifically says that it's a "2021 licensing agreement" and that "Topps will launch several products in 2021 to be sold in select retail locations throughout Japan starting in Q4" but there's no information on what the products will actually be.  It also mentions that Topps has launched a Japanese website but there's no information on any NPB products there either.

I'm not really sure what to make of this.  I have to say it's kind of odd that Topps put out the press release at 9 AM Eastern Time today which means it went out at 10 PM Japan time.  Interesting way to announce yourself to the Japanese card market.  

It does not appear that this affects the current NPB license holders of BBM, Calbee and Epoch so I guess Topps would become the fourth one (fifth if you count Konami).  That being said, I'm not sure what Topps is going to be bringing to the market that BBM and Epoch aren't already doing.  BBM and Epoch are already doing memorabilia and autographed cards in increasingly elaborate ways and both also do parallels out the wazoo.  The market is already kind of saturated - BBM did 29 sets last year and has released or announced 28 so far this year.  Epoch released 25 sets last year and has 22 out or announced this year.  (Calbee has only released three sets so they're kind of...uh...small potatoes in comparison.)  I mean, what's Topps going to do?  Bowman doesn't make much sense when BBM's already doing cards of all the players in all the organizations - keep in mind there'e only 70 guys on the rosters.

The one interesting thing I think Topps could bring to the table is the use of their classic card designs.  Wouldn't it be cool to see a Hayato Sakamoto card using the 1975 Topps design?  Maybe Topps could do an NPB version of their Archives set and have cards of both active and OB players using old Topps formats.

I want to mention that this isn't the first time that an American trading card company tried their hand at an NPB license.  Upper Deck released four NPB sets back in 2000 and 2001.   They were basically NPB versions of sets that Upper Deck had done for MLB - Ovation and Victory in 2000 and Victory and "Upper Deck" in 2001.  The sets used the same designs as the MLB versions:

2000 Upper Deck Ovation #66

2000 Upper Deck Victory #11

2001 Upper Deck Victory #070

2001 Upper Deck #154

They weren't bad sets of cards - the 2001 Upper Deck set is actually one of my all time favorite sets - but for whatever reason Upper Deck stopped making NPB cards after 2001.  I don't think they made any particular impact on the Japanese card market - there's certainly nothing I can point at and say "BBM did this because Upper Deck did this" (unlike Tomy in 1993-94).

Getting back to Topps. I guess we're really just going to have to wait and see what happens.  Hopefully they'll do something interesting.

UPDATE - Almost forgot - I suppose there's a kind of knee-jerk assumption that this announcement is somehow related to Topps losing their MLB license.  That's probably not the case since I'd assume they'd been talking to NPB for a while (since I don't think NPB does anything resembling marketing quickly) and I can't imagine that sales of NPB baseball cards in a market that (as I said) is already saturated with product would come anywhere close to the sales of MLB cards in a market where they were the sole licensee.


Brett Alan said...

Hmmm...on the one hand, it's not hard to imagine that these cards are more aimed at American collectors, and that perhaps Topps is trying to give themselves options for when they lose the MLB licenses.

On the other, Topps is increasingly a very international company. When I'm in Singapore, there basically are no baseball cards at all (even in the Japanese shops), but I can go into any 7-11 (they're everywhere) and buy Topps products, mostly Match Attax soccer cards and Star Wars cards. Add in WWE and Formula One and Topps' portfolio is looking VERY international. So perhaps their strategy is to focus on the rest of the world, not the US.

GCA said...

You're right to say that they'll probably go with previous designs. They're nicer than the current one and they like nothing better than recycling designs...