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Old 10-18-2009, 06:59 PM   #1
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Default Topps GM Warren Friss ‘Very Excited’ About MLB Exclusive

Topps GM Warren Friss ‘Very Excited’ About MLB Exclusive

In 15 years aboard the exhilarating roller coaster ride that is the sports card industry, Topps General Manager Warren Friss has experienced his share of thrills, chills and spills.

But as a Topps executive, Friss has never known a marketplace with only one fully licensed baseball card manufacturer. That will change in a big way in 2010 when, for the first time in almost 30 years, Topps returns to its roots as the exclusive baseball card provider of Major League Baseball.

Understandably, Friss is excited about the opportunities that accompany Topps’ exclusive agreement with MLB Properties. But spend a little time with him and you discover that he’s excited about a lot more than just that.

There’s the opportunity to get kids back . . . and to clean up the retail channel . . . and Topps’ new long-term exclusive extension with the WWE . . . and the exclusive with the UFC . . . and potentially getting back into hockey . . . and buying back a million baseball cards for a unique promotion surrounding 2010 Topps Baseball and . . .

In an exclusive interview that will appear in the December issue of Beckett Sports Card Monthly, Friss tirelessly and passionately addresses a wide array of topics, from working with Michael Eisner to collecting the Mets.

You can check out the complete interview next month in BSCM. You can check out a sneak peek here:

What are the biggest advantages of Topps landing the MLB Properties exclusive?
We’re very excited about the exclusive, obviously. There are a number of advantages. One is we are the official and exclusive baseball card of Major League Baseball. The fact that we can say that, promote that, is obviously significant and we will promote it. We’re the only Major League Baseball card. When you’re selling baseball cards it’s pretty important to be associated with Major League Baseball. I’m not sure what you have if you’re not associated with Major League Baseball. That fact is something that’s not going to be lost on kids and collectors, and we’re going to let people know that we’re the official card of Major League Baseball.

In addition, things like the Rookie Card. We have rights from both Players and the league. We will have the only real, true, authentic Rookie Cards in the marketplace, which is a major advantage.

And just what we can show on the cards and what they can look like. We don’t know what our competitor is going to do exactly, but it’s not much of a baseball card if you can’t say “New York Yankees” with the Yankees’ logo, or show somebody with a Dodgers uniform that says “Dodgers” across the front of it. Again, we don’t know what our competitor will do but we know what we’re going to do and we’re going to have some great products out there with great photos that really take advantage of the fact that we are the only Major League Baseball card this year.

Is it necessary to have more simplified product offerings in order to grow the business going forward?
[It’s] absolutely critical. I think it’s going to be nearly impossible to grow unless we present ourselves differently at the retail level – and that means simpler. That was a major reason for also going after the baseball exclusive. We need to be able to clean up the marketplace. When a kid or a mom or a dad who’s a casual collector or fan walks into Target or Walmart and they’re interested in getting started in collecting baseball cards, they need to understand what they should buy and how they’re going to get started. With the dizzying array of products that are on the shelf right now, it’s just far too difficult for them to make that choice. It becomes work to make that choice instead of what’s supposed to be fun. People end up not making a buying decision because they’re afraid to make a mistake. It’s too complicated.

Really, in order to get kids back and to allow that casual consumer to get involved in the hobby, we have to present a simpler product line at retail.

You guys have had great success with the UFC license this year. Was it a no-brainer to acquire that license, and have the first two products exceeded your expectations?
It wasn’t a no-brainer . . . maybe it should’ve been. With a new license, you’re never quite sure how collectors are going to react. But frankly, the UFC has become more popular, sort of day by day, since we acquired the license. When we started looking at it 24 months ago, it wasn’t where it is today.

It wasn’t a no-brainer. They were a new licensor and they actually didn’t have all the rights to some of the fighters locked up, so we had to take some chances there. It wasn’t without risk, but we’re obviously very, very happy that we did it. It’s a great a brand and we see it growing constantly. It’s really a broader audience than I thought. There are a lot more guys who are just general sports fans who have really gotten in to UFC and I’m a hundred percent sure that’s going to continue.

What are your plans with the WWE going forward?
WWE has been very strong for us. We just re-signed with them for a long-term exclusive deal. That’s locked up for the next several years and that’s also one of the areas where, in addition to traditional cards, we’re doing other items like dog tags and Chipz. We’re going to continue to expand our product offerings within licenses like WWE. This year, one of the things we’re doing is putting out a WWE brand using the Topps’ baseball design, which is the first time we’ve done that. That’s going to be very interesting and I think collectors are going to really like that.

Are there any surprises in store for 2010 that you might be ready to unveil?
[One] exciting thing that I don’t think has been talked about yet is going to be in our Topps Series 1, Series 2 and I think Updates and Highlights as well. We’re launching the Topps Million Card Giveaway. You know how everyone always says “my mother threw out all my cards?” Well, now Topps is giving back all those cards that your mother threw out.

We’re buying back a million cards and they’re going to be available in our packs through online codes. We’re going to have at least one of every base card we’ve ever produced available. Every 1952 card, every 1953 card . . . at least one of everything. There are about 38,000 different base cards that we’ve done over the years and that doesn’t quite get us to a million, so we have multiples of many of them. We’re going to have some autograph cards, some Relic cards; some really interesting cards. We have some Willie Mays Rookie Cards, some that are autographed; so there’s going to be a lot of great, interesting items available.

The way it’s going to work is that in one in six packs of Topps Series 1 and Series 2, you will get a code and you’ll take that code online and that will unlock your actual vintage card that you will be getting. It’s not a digital card. You unlock it online but what you’ve won is an actual vintage card that Topps has bought back. You can get it delivered if you want, when you want. The other thing you’ll be able to do is trade that card.

It’s a huge promotion. A million cards is not easy to buy back. We’re going through the process now. There are going to be several Rookie Mantles in there. There’s also going to be a sweepstakes where every time you enter a code you will be entered into a sweepstakes and the winner will get a complete 1952 Topps set.

It’s a neat concept and we think it’s going to be a huge boost to Topps Baseball in 2010.

Can we read into your announcement of an NHL Attax game earlier this year that you guys are interested in re-entering the hockey arena?
Yeah. We love hockey. [Hockey’s current exclusive with Upper Deck] ends in October or November of next year. We have been talking with both NHLPA and NHLE and we’ll see what happens. We’re certainly interested in getting back into hockey.

How would you characterize Michael Eisner’s involvement in the business?
He’s absolutely involved. I’d say he’s probably here in New York about one week a month. He lives out in LA. We correspond with him either through phone calls or email pretty much every day.

He has been a tremendous, tremendous help to us. Some of the things we’ve been able to do, he was extremely helpful in. His energy and creativity and drive to succeed have really pushed us and have us really operating at another level.

Obviously he’s a big thinker and his success at Disney shows that. He’s involved. He’s been extremely helpful and he’s had a very positive attitude about the hobby and cards and kids. It’s really been very, very helpful.

– Tracy Hackler

Topps GM Warren Friss ‘Very Excited’ About MLB Exclusive « The Beckett Blog
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