The Ethics in Sports Cards: Pt III

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Welcome to the third installment in my series, The Ethics in Sports Cards.   If you read my past two articles (Part 1, Part 2) regarding the ethics of sports card collecting, you will recall I discussed the card market on eBay and those people who give collectors a bad name by pack searching, as well as ethical corporate practices from card companies like Topps. I concluded by mentioning the redemption card and the ethics behind them, and a majority of this article will be regarding my opinions of them.

For those who don’t know, a redemption card is one that card companies put into a pack in place of a jersey/relic or autograph card. Often these are little pieces of cardboard and will have printing along the lines of, “Congratulations! You have a received a redemption card of (player name) from the (whatever set) expires (date 2-3 years in the future).”  It will likely have a scratch off code similar to a prepaid phone card or scratch ticket with fine print and legal mumbo jumbo such as how long it will take to receive, etc. You log onto the company’s website, find the redeem buttom, enter the code and the company will send you the card they promised on the front in a few weeks — or at least in theory. While this is often a debated topic among collectors, some love it and some hate it, there are both pros and cons.

For the most part, redemption cards are cut on cardboard that is no bigger than a regular card. This is great as it prevents pack searchers from finding them and they pass up the pack as a hitless pack. Also, it has been my experience that most redemption cards are usually of high quality in terms of jersey/relics and autographs go and are big name players, usually nice multi-color patches, and have low serial numbers. Another thing is that when these companies produce nicer cards, like a three-color patch autograph of Nolan Ryan numbered to 10, they would want to protect these cards from damages of being in the pack. Redemption cards allow them to do that by offering a cardboard with print on it instead of the actual product. The cardboard can be knocked around in shipping as well as in customer handling. The card company can ship the card sealed in a case to the customer.   This also transfers over to the secondary market (like eBay) if a seller lists the redemption card for sale, the actual card won’t get damaged between shipping it to the buyer.

How do redemption cards fall short, ethically-speaking? The first is the timeframe the card companies promise to send these cards out. While there is no set timeframe for Topps or Panini, collectors have shared their horror stories and said it would take a year or longer.

Personally, I have a Panini hockey card redemption out — a rookie auto jersey /99, which I redeemed on October 2, 2014. According to Panini, it could take between four and eight months. It is late February, and they have yet to do anything. I called Panini customer service about a month ago and they gave me a very generic response: “We have to wait for the athlete to sign the card on their own time and then have their agent send it back to us when they can. Once we receive it, we will take about two weeks to process and ship out.”

I can understand that for most athletes, signing cards and autographs for companies like Panini or Topps is not high atop their to-do lists, especially for big names like Sidney Crosby or Peyton Manning. However, my player Viktor Fasth is the backup goalie for the Edmonton Oilers, a team that hasn’t had a winning season since approximately the mid-80s. Don’t get me wrong, Fasth isn’t obligated to sign more cards because he isn’t a superstar and it is rather tedious work for little compensation. I don’t mind waiting for the athlete. What I do mind is that the players often make it a day to visit the company to get most of their signings out of the way. Furthermore, I have found the exact same card (minus the numbering and jersey coloring) on eBay and other card sites. How can Panini tell me he hasn’t signed it yet when he clearly signed the other 98 cards in the set and Panini released the same card in the same packs as my redemption? I know they do it to other collectors, and I find it ludicrous.

One story I heard from the owner of “my” card shop, is that he sent out for Panini redemption in 2011 for a highly ranked rookie auto jersey /5. Around Christmas of 2014 the guy was moving his shop to a different location when the mailman arrived requiring a signature. It was from Panini and inside was that redemption card he sent for in 2011 and the rookie had busted.

If your patience is wearing thin, you have the ability to substitute the card for something else that the card company deems of similar or equal value. Going back to Fasth, if I wanted a different card because I am tired of waiting, I would not expect something like a Gretzky or amazing goalie like Pekka Rinne or Jonathan Quick. However, I would be upset with a minor league goalie from the AHL or some other player not many people have heard of. Collectors have vented their frustrations that, when asking for a substitute, they have received a card nowhere close to equal or similar value either in terms of player or quality (not autographed or jersey when original said it would be). I don’t want make a conspiracy theory out of this, but what is to say that they aren’t holding onto cards that weren’t redeemed from a few years ago and sending them out as compensation? I’d like to think that these companies would be fair with their value but I find it as if the bank saying if your loan doesn’t get approved we will find one of similar value. Similar value for whom, the collector or the company?

Another complaint and frustration I have seen from collectors is that redemption cards come with expiration dates. While most of these are two to three years in the future, many collectors have vented frustration when they pull an expired redemption card from packs made a few years ago. I remember personally, my girlfriend had a pack from a few years ago where she pulled a redemption card for a rookie autograph jersey of Taylor Hall or Jordan Eberle. After speaking with Panini, they said it was too late since the card expired. There was also a collector on Twitter who opened a box of Topps Triple Threads and his redemption was for a dual relic autograph of Miguel Cabrera and Albert Pujols. Topps tweeted that he should call their customer support and he let social media know that Topps told him it was expired and they couldn’t help him.

While I get the frustration, I don’t understand why these things could expire. It is not like they are food and will rot. It is insulting to collectors by putting them in packs after the expiration date and letting another collector find the card that had already been found. Imagine a state lottery’s repairing losing scratch tickets, then reselling them as a winner. They are increasing profits and reducing work production.  Once upon a time, redemption cards were used as fillers for cards that have yet to be made, which I totally agree with. I believe that is the only time redemption cards should be used — when the company plans on making the set in the future. But now, companies sit back and wait to see if they even get redeemed before making the cards, so how could this expired? It’s an ingenious way for them to keep costs down. Then the real blow is that some people get redemptions and have to jump through hoops for about a year, while others get lucky and instant gratification of a similar or even the same card.

So ethically I’m not a big fan of redemption cards. I would be okay with them, if they were already made and took a month or two to deliver and reserved specifically for redemption. But the fact is these cards are used as a substitute to tangible cards and the amount of hoops and waiting that a collector has to endure doesn’t make it worth it. I honestly regret redeeming my Fasth, and wish I had sold the redemption.

I know I haven’t been kind to Panini in this article, but they are notorious for this. However, when my girlfriend redeemed a hockey card she pulled that wasn’t expired, they sent it to her in about a month. It almost seemed as if they had made the card specifically for redeeming and, as soon as the code came in, they sent it out.

I want to clarify that I am not against redemption cards. What I am against are companies producing redemption cards and then hoping collectors get frustrated and settle for a card of lesser quality.


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