Saturday, May 28, 2011

In the Game, but Out of Touch

In the Game's Between the Pipes is one of the most anticipated releases of each collecting season - collectors scramble to assemble the base set, and chase the high-end memorabilia inserts with gusto. In 2010/11, an unfortunate printing error has vaulted the manufacturer toward a fork in the road.

"Masked Men", a dazzling two per box insert set featuring the best goalies in the game and their varying mask designs, is a collecting staple. As usual, this year's release featured three coloured variations of each card - Emerald (/340), Silver (/100) and Gold (/10). Upon the release of the product, it was discovered that each Emerald card was mistakenly identified as a "one of one".

Collectors were not immediately aware of this, and so many overpaid for these cards, assuming that they were unique. Days after release, however, it was admitted by the manufacturer that a mistake had been made - a solution to the issue was promised, and weeks later, proposed:

At first glance, it is flattering to see that a manufacturer has taken the initiative to make things right - but a review of the proposed redemption program reveals it to be, in my opinion, rather insulting.

Simply send in 17 Masked Men inserts of a Tier 1 player and receive a redemption card featuring the same picture and a small square of memorabilia, /10. In the world of customer service, there appears to be a bit of role reversal here - the manufacturer is hopeful that these items will be returned so that they will be off the market, and the error off of the collecting radar. That established, why is the redemption number set at 17?

Keep in mind that the manufacturer made the error, not the collector - and yet it is the collector who is being asked to pay for it - not only with his wallet, but by enduring a 6-8 week wait in order to receive the redemption card to top it off.

To illustrate this, let's take a look at the Martin Brodeur Masked Men card (is there any other?) - regularly selling for between $8-10, plus shipping at online auction. Assuming that I was able to bring in every copy for $8 inclusive, I would still be forking over an astonishing $136 in cold hard cash just to get enough error cards to redeem - then I've got to ship them registered to ITG's office, usually a $20 bill with Canada Post.

I find that to be absolutely unreasonable - especially considering that very few of thee cards from this set (including autographs, game-used or combo cards, even short prints) will break the $100 mark at auction.

A second tier is also available featuring the lesser names in the set - simply send in 17 (there's that number again) assorted Masked Men cards featuring players from that tier and receive a Masked Men Memorabilia Redemption /20 of a random player from tier 2. The least expensive Masked Men cards will routinely cost $5 or so, so the average tier 2 redeemer will have spent upwards of $65 on his stack of error cards, plus shipping back to the manufacturer.

A glance at the tier 2 checklist startles me, as it includes several players who don't have a card on the market, licensed or otherwise, that is worth more than $40 (Peter Budaj, Tomas Vokoun and Curtis McElhinney to name a few).

I am not one to complain without offering a solution - so here are two methods that I would have used in place of this one, which I feel exploits collectors, and offers no support to he who opened only a box or two of the product:

1 - Masked Men Ruby and Masked Men Platinum - An additional two parallels of the best 30 goalies in the set, Ruby numbered to to 50 and Platinum to 25. For every five Masked Men error cards submitted, one random Ruby redemption would be sent to the collector, and for every 10, one Platinum redemption card.

The current redemption program, if used to its full potential, would see 10,200 of the 17,000 total error cards returned to the company - the solution outlined above would see collectors more readily submit up to 15,000!

This would allow the collector who opened a box or two and had a handful of error cards to obtain something of value, and would make it far more cost effective for collectors to HELP THE MANUFACTURER, by taking part in the program. Additionally, I think a redemption card that was not labeled as such would be more appealing to collectors.

2 - Product Vouchers/ Cash Purchase - any redemption replacement program is going to cost money - so why not earmark those funds to buyers who could visit shows, shops and trade nights to buy them back, or award vouchers for boxes or packs in exchange?

Everyone makes mistakes, and as moral human beings it is in our nature to forgive, but I feel as if more thought could have been put into this redemption program, and more consideration for the collector displayed.