For sports-card aficionados, they know baseball season is nearing when Topps releases its annual card series.
With Major League Baseball celebrating its 150th anniversary this season, the card company wanted to be inventive with its most recent release, Series 2. When it debuted in early June, it featured something unique: a collection with Gary Vaynerchuk.
Working with Topps on an insert set titled, “Gary Vee’s Top Entrepreneurs in Baseball,” the media mogul added his own innovative imprint. Instead of featuring stats on the back of the card, the 10-card deck detail the business partnerships of active and retired MLB stars, written by Vaynerchuk.
“Gary Vaynerchuk loves baseball cards,” said Clay Luraschi, Topps vice president of product development. “His beginning started with buying and selling cards. We saw a great opportunity to share his passion by melding what he loves: sports, trading cards and entrepreneurship.”
Growing up in New Jersey, one of Vaynerchuk’s earliest entrepreneurial endeavors was collecting baseball cards at various card shows. As he grew older, his love of sports cards helped him connect with others who shared that same passion.
“I’ve known Gary for about 20 years now, and one of my first memories of hanging out with Gary was going to car shows with him, my dad and [Gary’s brother AJ Vaynerchuk], looking for Lebron James rookie cards,” said Louis Geneux, Vaynerchuk’s long-time friend and business associate at VaynerMedia. “[Collecting baseball cards] is literally a thing that he loved since was a kid and when he originally told me about the project, the first thing he said was it’s the coolest thing ever that [he’s] going to be on a baseball card.”
In Geneux and Vaynerchuk’s eyes, it was imperative for Topps to create a card that brought the duo back to their early baseball-fanatic roots. After the vintage look was selected, the next step was learning more about the chosen players.
Many know Jose Ramirez as the Cleveland Indians’ All-Star third-baseman, but not as a businessman. From his salsa brand to his involvement with Cleveland Coffee Company, Ramirez’s business ventures extend far beyond the baseball diamond. With nine other ballplayers to learn about, the Vaynerchuk-inspired cards are another instance of Topps trying to give collectors something new.
“The people at Topps are fans too — that’s important,” added Luraschi. “When we are creating a product and putting cards together, we make sure it’s exciting to us too. We also do that by continually making new products, having smart collaborations and innovating.”
Topps has found success with non-traditional cards before. It has owned the rights of WWE trading cards since 2008. Although those cards are no longer sold in the United States, it continues to sell in Europe, where it is one of the longest-lasting Topps brands in the United Kingdom. There’s also the infamous Garbage Pail Kids line. Launched in 1985, the trading card sticker was originally a part of a different concept until Topps executives thought it’d work for a spin-off series. In just one year, it went on to sell over 800 million stickers, and remains one of Topps’ most-recognizable brands.
However, the company’s success is still predicated around sports and baseball. The official card of MLB since 2009, Topps has seen double-digit revenue growth in each of the last three years, according to Luraschi, who declined to comment further as Topps is a privately-held company. Forbes estimates that the sports memorabilia industry is valued at approximately $5.4 billion annually.
With Vaynerchuk’s name now imprinted into Topps folklore, many – himself included – believe that sports cards are making a comeback in popular culture. Whether it’s true or not, many have grown up with Topps, and it’s still making an impression on its diverse audience.
“Topps Baseball Series 2 is always one of those products that resonates with baseball fans, especially because it’s one of the first places to get rookie cards,” said Luraschi. “Add in the historical content of the 150th anniversary of professional baseball, and the ‘Gary Vee’ cards, there is something for everyone. It’s been popular with collectors, baseball fans, historians, [Vaynerchuk] fans and everyone in between.”