The True Story? Sports Collectibles Hobby is Alive and Well for Panini America

March 26, 2012

CBS News chief investigative reporter Armen Keteyian recently took a stab at covering the sports card industry for a segment that aired over the weekend. Frankly, the piece was light on investigation and heavy on sources seemingly hand picked to validate a preconceived conclusion: The collectibles hobby is dying.
The collectibles hobby is dying? That’s a new one to us here at Panini America. In fact, just last month, CW 33 news anchor Walt Maciborski visited Panini America HQ for a compelling segment on an industry that has been radically transformed in the last, oh, two decades or so. That story fittingly leads this post.

Oh, and then there was the report last summer from FOX News on Panini America’s pioneering HRX Video Trading Cards. Both the CW 33 and FOX News reports would seem to indicate an industry that is not dying at all but transforming for a new generation.
To be sure, the one-sided CBS News segment struck a chord with countless folks inside an industry whose job it is to ensure that sports cards not only survive, but continue to thrive. One such insider is Panini America Vice President of Marketing Jason Howarth, who engaged Keteyian in a public Twitter debate shortly after the segment aired.
“I’m all about engaging in smart dialogue,” Howarth said Monday afternoon. “I, like many in the trading card category, was shocked by the tone and direction of the report. As someone that works for the world’s largest sports and entertainment collectibles company, I felt we needed to point out the mistakes – and there were many — that were just too blatant to overlook. You can’t do this story and not mention how the category has evolved and that people can now find the rarest of cards, or collect their favorite players, all while sitting on their couch. To not even factor that into the story is disingenuous.
“If you look at any business over the last 20 years, you are going to find that the consumer and the market strategy has evolved. The manufacturers, hobby and collectors have all stepped up their games and have become more savvy in this industry. It’s why we have seen and celebrated some of the most unique, one-of-a-kind cards selling for thousands of dollars over the last year, along with new innovations. What I felt was the biggest miss in the story is what separates Panini America and trading cards from everything else: There is no other category or product that delivers that connection and deep level of personalization between today’s athletes and their fans.”
Howarth’s Twitter points regarding the CBS News segment that apparently paid no mind to the massive role the Internet has played in reshaping an age-old industry:

  • Going to a hotel for a show and saying that’s the category is inaccurate; look at mass retail, hobby and the Internet.
  • Go to The National in Baltimore in August and see a cross section of card companies and retailers and watch how much money moves.
  • Lots of things could have been incorporated, like representatives from manufacturers and leagues that drive the business.
  • Look at any business in a setting that worked in the 1980s and everyone will tell you the way they do business has changed.
  • [The industry’s] down 75 percent from what? Fewer kids does not equal category dying. It’s evolved. Males 18-55 drive the category.
  • Of the 60 plus sports products Panini America produces in a year, 10 percent targeted to kids. This is no longer a wax/bubblegum category.
  • The late 1980s/early 1990s was the boom time with mass produced product that held no value. The category is now more refined and cards hold secondary market values. Cards sell for big money.

Howarth ended his passionate back-and-forth by personally inviting Keteyian to be a guest of Panini America at August’s 2012 National Sports Collectors Convention in Baltimore.