A few weeks back, Luke of the Cardboard Review pondered just what one would have to do to make base sets relevant again. His solution was basically what card companies have been doing – make the sets really big, offer lots of parallels and subsets and throw the odd hit in there to make it worthwhile. He had some interesting notions of what to do in high-end products, but that’s not really my point of interest here. The “base set” of The Cup really isn’t a base set, in it’s purest form. It’s still a card from a pack somebody paid $400-500 to open. It’s not really the point of collecting.
I’m like a lot of older collectors in that I too miss the days when the point of buying cards was to complete the set. I’d like a product that I felt like chasing. I’d like to buy a box of cards and not feel like it was a completely wasted effort because the only practical way to acquire a set is to buy it outright.
It’s not as though kids today don’t collect cards. They do. I have a bunch of them and they love cards if they can get their hands on them. What they don’t collect are sports cards – not that much, anyway. Pokemon, Magic, you name it, they’re all over that. Kids bring their decks to school just like how they used to bring stacks of doubles to trade.
One thing that did surprise me was how much my kids loved the Panini sticker sets. Even my daughters, who pay at best cursory attention to sports, were all over them. On a Friday night I’d give them all a few packs each and suddenly it would be 1981 all over again. The house was filled with kids sorting, bartering, trading, finishing off their sets. It’s no different than it ever was.
The market is there – someone just needs to figure out how to hit it.
Anyhow, having looked at how the popular products work, if I were to suggest a way to make a viable base set, this is what I would do:
Don’t make it too big.
600-card sets are for grown-ups. When a box is upwards of $60 and you need to buy four or five to even be in the ballpark of a set, that’s way too much of an investment. The Panini set was around 300. That’s achievable for a young budget.
Put some effort into it.
Collectors say, “Oh, but the photography is so much better than it used to be!” It is, but the backs are crap and have been so for years. Kids like reading these things. Watch them with their Pokemon cards. They pore over the stats, read the little blurbs. Put a little energy into the cards. They need to be more than just a picture.
Bring the price down.
A buck a pack should bring 8-10 cards. They don’t have to be museum-grade. They just need to be decent. Kids don’t have unlimited budgets.
No hits outside the base set.
None. Nada. Zip. The cool thing with the stickers was that the shinies and fabric cards were part of the main set, not a chase item beyond it. If you want all the all-stars to be refractors, so be it. It makes the subsets more interesting, which is good, because historically, kids hated subsets.
Further, this makes the hits part of the set. If you want the base set to mean something, make it the only thing that means anything. The hits used to be the stars and the players from your favourite team. There was nothing required beyond that. All winter, I watched this sort of set work extremely well with my kids. There’s no reason it couldn’t fly for a card set, as well.
These are the backs of the two cards I showed above. Look at the information loaded into them along with a modicum of design effort. This is what is utterly lacking in modern products, for all their photographic wonder.