Armour: The Great Topps Baseball Card Monopoly: Competition

From SABR member Mark Armour at The National Pastime Museum on June 2, 2016:

Although Fleer had failed its legal challenges to Topps in the 1960s it continued to keep its hands in the baseball memorabilia game, selling team stickers or cards honoring past World Series with bubblegum in the late 1960s and early 1970s. In 1975 Fleer asked Topps permission to market stickers or stamps of current players. When Topps refused, Fleer filed suit against both Topps and the Players Association to try to break the monopoly. In its suit, Fleer claimed that it could not compete in the bubblegum market without the ability to include baseball cards with its product.

The litigation took several years to play out, but in 1980 a federal court found for Fleer, ordering the players union to issue at least one additional group license for 1981. In the event, both Fleer and Donruss, another gum company, joined Topps in 1981, helping to usher in an explosion in card sets, and card popularity, that lasted a bit more than a decade. An appeals court overturned Fleer’s victory late in 1981, but the two upstarts simply replaced their gum with stickers or puzzle pieces, and the monopoly was finished.

I am getting a bit ahead of my story here, but by 1990 there were five major card companies and a dozen card sets being put out every year. Instead of kids riding their bike to the store with a quarter and riding home with 25 cards, monied adults were buying cases filled with tens of thousands of cards and putting them in their basement to save for their retirement. There were sports card stores in every strip mall and price guides in every bookstore. Kids were no longer “playing” with their cards; they were putting them in albums or in hard plastic cases. As the cards had no more intrinsic value than they had when they were being sold for a penny, the crash of the baseball card bubble in the early 1990s seemed inevitable.

But that is not our story. When we left off last time, the Topps monopoly still had five more years to run.

Read the full article here:

Originally published: June 3, 2016. Last Updated: June 3, 2016.