Saturday, December 29, 2012

Rookies & Stars: A Review

So for Christmas I was able to pick up a box of anything.  I chose Rookies & Stars for two reasons.  The first is the fact that I wanted a football product.  The second is my local card shop had more Panini Black Friday packs, and this was the only product at that price range that got them.  My Black Friday packs contained a Ryan Tannehill patch and nothing else noteworthy.  Now that we're done with the back story, on to the review.  

Here are all the hits plus some inserts.

Here we have the base card and the True Blue parallel.  They run roughly seven per box.  They have a very clean design.  The base design looks like your typical $3.50-$4.00 per pack cards should look.  There's nothing wrong with that.  While Kirk Cousins is a fourth round pick, it would have been nice to have a  non-practice photo.

This is the longevity parallel numbered to 249.  They fall one per box.  The camera doesn't do it justice.  They are quite nice to look at.  They really glisten and give off a rainbow effect.  It would be nicer though if there were more than one parallel per box and it would be better if they had more than one level of parallel since they do increase the overall value of the product.  
The team pennant cards run about two per box, while the player ones run one per box.  These are a nice alternative to the typical die-cut you usually find.  Having two different types of pennants means more for set builders which does add some value.
The Statistical Standouts insert looks like it was meant for the Prestige set.  To me, Prestige felt a bit cheap in terms of design which makes takes away from this product.
This Greatest Hits insert is numbered to 500.  I like the card from a purely design standpoint.  Two pictures of the athlete are nice to look at.  What they should have is an autographed version with the signature over the secondary picture.  Now onto the actual hits.
Base autos typically run one per box.  It is quite literally the base card with a sticker auto.  Nothing remarkable here.  This card is numbered to 999.  I personally think anything over /499 shouldn't even have a number stamp on it, with the exception of the value sets (Score, Topps base sets, etc).  Very low in terms of value with this as a hit.
Both of these are longevity parallels numbered to 249.  The designs are quite elegant.  Nice jersey swatches draw your attention while the team logos offset the empty space.  It would have been nice, however, if there was some color in the patches.  These aren't the base rookie materials and should have better swatches.
The "hit" of the box.  It's the base signature numbered to 499.  The white swatch makes sense here as it's the base version.  It still has the elegance of the regular rookie materials, just with a sticker autograph over the team logo.

Overall, this box didn't have much in terms of value.  When you spend anywhere from $80-$100 on a box of cards, you hope to get at least a small return.  These hits are currently worth about $20 on eBay.  I know that things are random in terms of players received in a box, but it would be nice if I didn't get what is pretty much the base box, in terms of what hits you can get.  There are many other insert signatures/game-used cards that they could have randomly inserted into my box, but they didn't.  Maybe the fact that I got such a low value box means that the median box is much better.  If not, that's quite unfortunate.  

Base Design: A-
Insert Design: B-
Die-Cut Design: B+
Materials Design: A
Value of my box: B-

Overall: B+ 

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Quick Jets thoughts following Sunday's game

Short post since I'm short on time today.

1. Tannenbaum has to go.  Over the offseason I said he didn't do enough to fix the team and this is proof.

2. Why is Tebow on this team?  He's shown he can't throw a football.  We know that if he's in the game at QB he's either running or handing it off.  He has thrown the ball once so far this season. It was a jump pass that wasn't that great to a backup TE who ended up fumbling the ball.

3. Sanchez also can't be the QB going forward.  He hasn't grown much since his rookie year and now he has practically no talent around him.  He makes poor decisions and handles pressure poorly.

4. Where are the WRs? Holmes is done for the season.  Hill can't catch.  That leaves Kerley and Schilens.  I don't care that it's do to injuries, but you can't have those guys as your two receivers.  Don't sign TO or Chad Nochocinco.  Bring in some guys who never had a shot.  One player that comes to mind to at least have a spot on the practice squad is Chris "7-11" Hogan.  He's a local boy who got national media attention on Hard Knocks.  Yes I know the Dolphins cut him because they felt their WRs are better then him, but when your depth chart is this bad, why not at least give the guy a shot on the practice squad?  Good PR at the very least and could help the team.

5. Give Powell more carries. He's not a star or even an above average RB, but Greene clearly isn't a guy who should be given as many carries as he gets.  Greene has no big play potential and has struggled with getting small gains.

6. Rex Ryan is fine as the coach.  I blame Tannenbaum for not bringing in talented players, or even above average players.  Of course Rex is going to say he has a good team most of the time.  He doesn't want his team to think that they're one of the worst 2-2 teams ever even though he knows it.

I'll probably have another Jetcentric post next Tuesday if they are as bad against Houston as I think they'll be.  I'll give you one clue what it'll be about.  Rebuilding.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Why the Emmys are Garbage

Three words.  Remedial Chaos Theory.  Those three words make up the title of Community writer Chris McKenna's brilliant episode that deals with how one small change in the world, such as the rolling of a dice, can completely change everything.  It had anything and everything one could hope for in a 22 minute episode of comedy.  It showcased various character dynamics and interactions, and how they differed by removing one of the central cast members from the room.  It gave us the notion that in order to have a fancy party, you need to have toilet olives.  It gave us this brilliant piece of physical comedy by Donald Glover.  It created the darkest timeline, a running bit throughout the season that showed us what could happen in a world where everything. I could go on and on listing what made this episode great.  Instead, here's a link to a review by AV Club's Todd VanDerWerff which says everything more eloquently than I could.

Now why would I bring up the show that lost for the best writing for comedy?  Because the episode that won wasn't really that great.  As anyone who has kept up, Louis CK won for the first episode of the second season of his show Louie, entitled Pregnant.  To sum it up, Louis's sister comes to visit and she's pregnant.  While the journey from the start of the episode to the closing moments is great, I just can't get over the ending.  His sister is in pain, they take her to the hospital.  Instead of a baby, she gives birth to a fart.  One big smelly fart.  For me, it really took away from a great 22 minutes of television.  When Louis CK was announced as the winner, it just felt like that fart.  Like the Emmys just pushed out one long smelly fart.  How can you award someone for writing a 20 minute setup for a fart joke when there are some more funny and thought provoking episodes up for nomination?  Then again, I'm not a member of any group that votes on anything of importance, so this is just the opinion of a regular Joe who enjoys watching television.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

How Customer Service Directly Impacts Brand Influence in the Cardboard Community Part 3: Musings on Topps and How Giveaways Do Not Make Up for Customer Service Gaffes And How Inconsistent Social Media Tone Irks Customers

My dealings with the Topps Company are best described as a rollercoaster.  One day they (through their twitter account @toppscards) seem to value my thoughts and opinions.  The next, they give me the whole "have a good day sir" routine.  This post will be more train of thought than chronological, so bear with me.

No one wants to be told to "have a good day sir", especially via text.  In a brick and mortar retail environment, it usually comes off as either A) the employee is trying to be rude and civil and the same time or B) hasn't been properly trained.  Sir isn't a word that should be used in this context in today's day and age.  It's from a lexicon in the past.  When the Topps account tells me to "have a good day sir" as their way of saying "we aren't going to talk to you about this topic any more because we don't have a response that will put us in a good light" it bothers me.  And it should bother you too.  It comes off as snotty and pretentious.  If you want to stop the conversation something along the lines of "While we value your opinion, we are unable to discuss this matter further" is far less rude.  ALWAYS tell the customer that his opinion matters.  But not just say it, mean it.  In today's social media age, everyone has the power to get their voices out.  A company should value each and every one of those voices, since these are the people who purchase your products, and they tend to purchase it more than others.  I took a very informal poll at one of my local card shops.  Twice as many people who were purchasing multiple boxes were on twitter and following the major card companies than not.  When they say, for example, that a product shouldn't have hits that are numbered over 699 or so, don't number the higher hits.  They look better without the number if it's so high.

Back to the everyone has a voice point.  I'd like to take this opportunity to plug a quick Twitter campaign I started.  As Topps said last week, they are looking to us for advice on who to include in next year's Allen and Ginter set.  The person who I thought would be interested is an actor by the name of Charley Koontz (@charley_koontz).  For those of you who don't know Charley, he's a really nice guy who is most famous for playing the best minor character on the greatest show on television, Community.  His character is called Fat Neil.  I tweeted at both Topps and Charley that it would be great to get Charley into this upcoming set, and Charley has been very supportive so far.  I created #FatNeilCard, so for those of you interested in helping get this awesome guy into Allen and Ginter 2013, please make sure to use that hashtag directed towards both Topps and Charley.

Finally, I'm going to talk about the whole rollercoaster experience, both with the @toppscards account and with customer support (via phone, email, and @toppssupport).  My first experience involved me trying to get a box of Allen and Ginter for free.  I asked that if I started going by Allen Ginter if I could get a free box.  They told me to get a tattoo and we would talk.  So, being the clever (or some might say, rulebreaker) that I am, I drew the Allen & Ginter logo on my leg, a temporary tattoo.  I figured my sense of humor and ingenuity would have scored me a box.  Nope.  Topps wouldn't even talk.  I pushed further.  Nothing.  I figured that would be the end of that.  I found out the next day, upon checking my mentions, that some random person who will remain nameless (this isn't about him and I'm not going to be the one to call out individuals) mentioned me twice.  To sum up the tweets, one stated that I should slit my wrists in a manner that would kill me and he'd consider giving me a box.  The other is that I don't have any friends, my family hates me, and I should die.  Strange that I should mention this, but it's all relevant to the Topps Twitter Experience.  Wouldn't you know it, a few days later this guy ends up being randomly chosen as one of the winners of a box of something.  So, being the offended upstanding citizen that I am, tweeted at Topps about what this guy said asking if they could choose again, because I feel someone like that doesn't deserve to be a winner of anything ever.  After some prying I was told something along the lines that topps doesn't play god, doesn't choose who is good or bad, and of course "have a good day sir."  After this, I decided to track down the email of a Topps executive, because surely someone higher up the corporate ladder would surely 1. agree with me that this guy shouldn't have won 2. apologized at the tone of the twitter account and 3. had the authority to send me something to make up for the fact that this guy who wants me dead won.  Greedy?  Maybe, but I wanted to at least get the point across to upper management that this type of behavior shouldn't be tolerated.  I tracked down the email to Doug Kruep, VP & GM of the sports and entertainment division.  To sum up multiple emails he said, I'm sorry you feel this way, the giveaways are random, and I can't give you anything to help rectify your Topps experience.  What bothers me is that I know the Topps twitter does have the discretion to give out extra stuff because I've been told by the account that prizes aren't giveaways.  Giveaways are random, but prizes are something they can give out when they feel needed.  I ended up getting one of these prizes eventually.  More on that later.

Directly relating to the customer support side, my brother had an issue.  Over the summer he started doing case breaks.  He broke 2 cases of Tier 1 at the cost of approximately $150, which is more than the price of a box of the product.  He got skunked both times and decided to voice his displeasure at Topps, not expecting them to do anything, just wanting them to know that the teams should be more random.  Edit: My brother had to wait over two weeks to hear a response from Topps despite being told that he would hear back within two business days.  This is why he believes he was offered something, to make up for them taking forever to even address the issue, not because of the issue itself.  To his surprise, Vincent at Topps support told him that they agree and to help fix his experience (why Doug didn't want to fix my experience, I'll never know) they would send him a free box of Tier 1.  Awesome!  My brother knew the risks of getting skunked, but at least now he would have just overpaid for a box from his end.  A few days go by and nothing arrives so my brother contacts them again.  He is told that they are out of Tier 1 but to make up for it, they would send him a box of Gypsy Queen and a box of Allen & Ginter.  Even better!  More cards, more hits.  Then over a week passes and still nothing in the mail.  My brother goes to check his support ticket and it's gone.  He calls again and finally is told that there was something already shipped (which we both believe to be a lie since it only takes 3 days by regular mail to get to our house from Topps HQ) but to make up for the fact that it hasn't arrived, they would send something else.  A few days later three packs of Gypsy Queen, three packs of Allen & Ginter and a few extra random cards including a gold refractor auto of a B level prospect arrived.  He ended up getting a Matt Moore auto in one of the packs which was nice, but far from the value of getting two whole boxes of medium end product or one box of high end.  Now I'm sure some of you are saying that we shouldn't complain since we got something for free.  We aren't complaining about getting anything for free.  I believe that once a company says they will help a customer in a specific way, they should be obligated to help that customer in that specific way.  So once my brother was told Tier 1, well he deserves that Tier 1.  If Tier 1 was unavailable, then he should get something of equal or greater value, like the two previously mentioned boxes. It shouldn't take three tries to end up getting a lesser value.  It makes the customer feel like the company doesn't care and is just giving him something so hopefully he'll stop calling.  As a company in a nonessential industry such as sports cards, you should never EVER make the customer feel like the company doesn't care about him.  During this time, I also had some skunky football breaks.  I didn't ask for anything, just wanted them to know the same thing.  Make sure that teams are represented more equally.  I was shipped a couple of Jets cards from the base football set from this year which I already had at least one of each.  Again, I am not complaining.  I am just stating the facts.

Now you can't have a rollercoaster without peaks, because so far I've been talking about the valleys.  The past few weeks have been much better with Topps.  They have been responding to my tweets positively more recently, even if it's criticism.  They have also been nicer to people in general it seems.  Maybe there are different people running it now, or maybe they were taught better social media etiquette.  Whatever the reason, they're trending upwards.  Last week, my brother tweeted at them that it would be cool to do a total points contest for the Monday Night Football games like they did for Sunday.  They said that if he (and I mean just him) could correctly guess the total score within two points, he would win a prize.  My brother being as awesome as he is, and knows that I never got anything of value (either from a personal collection standpoint or a sell to someone standpoint) told them that if he won to send me the prize.  He guessed 92.  The total from both games ended up being 93.  Topps knew that I believed Jets hits to be nonexistent, since I've never opened one from their product, so they sent me a Joe McKnight triple relic from Triple Threads 2010 (which will look nice in my personal collection) and a Stephen Hill 1984 style auto from this year's base football set.  The odd thing about this Stephen Hill is that the 1984 ones are only numbered out of 100. This one lacks a stamp for where the number is supposed to go.  My guess is that they send these (and possibly stamp them) to collectors who end up opening up a badly damaged one.  While this card is great for my personal collection, I also listed it on Ebay for the incredibly high price of $1000 or best offer.  While I don't really want to sell it, I'm finishing off my final semester of college and could really use any significant sum of money.  I have no idea if this card is even worth $100 because I don't know how often these unstamped numbered cards make it into circulation, but I like to remain optimistic that this is the only one of Stephen Hill, and possibly one of five total unstamped cards from the entire set.  Also I'd like to remain optimistic that there's some Jets fan out there with some money to burn that wants to help a college kid out.

The final part I wanted to address is the one thing I've yet to mention from the title of this post.  I believe that every single company should have a consistent brand tone, or at least for each marketing campaign.  Being consistent is professional and your customers have a reasonable expectation of what to expect.  As you can tell by both this post and any interaction you may have had with the Topps twitter, the style and tone can change on a daily basis.  My guess is that there are a few people who run it, depending on who has free time.    Recently, the account even tweeted that there isn't a full time time person running it, which is why it's hard to respond to everything.  For a company as large and with as many followers as Topps, I feel that this is an area that should be fixed.  For the (relatively) small price of one person's salary, you would gain a consistent tone which can respond to more people.  This makes customers feel more important and therefore more likely to purchase more product.  I know that I base my purchasing decisions not only on the product, but the company behind the product.  I would buy more from a company that made me feel important and maintains a consistent image than one that provides me with cycles of both love and hate.  I'd bet you would make at least 125% of that person's salary back in a year.  In fact, I know a guy who would be interested in a position like this.  He currently is an intern at a social media marketing firm, has his own blog, and is currently running a twitter campaign to get one of his favorite characters onto a trading card.  I could hook you up with him if you're interested.

This concludes my three part series on customer service of the big three card manufacturers.  I hope that not only my readers found my stories informative, but the companies as well.  I'm not sure what I should blog about next, so if you have any ideas feel free to leave them in the comments.  I believe you need to have your own Google account and there's some form of captcha to prove that you're human, so if you're on a mobile browser there might be some trouble.  Until next time, you can always reach me @ajs213.    

Monday, September 17, 2012

How Customer Service Directly Impacts Brand Influence in the Cardboard Community Part 2: Musings on Panini

I have never had an issue with a Panini product nor have I had to redeem anything, so I haven't had to deal with Panini's customer service.  This is the best case scenario for any company.  Kudos to Panini for keeping things simple for me.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

How Customer Service Directly Impacts Brand Influence in the Cardboard Community Part 1: Musings on Upper Deck and How Mistakes Can Ruin Brand Image

This will be part one of a three part series.  Parts two and three will be about the other big three, Topps and Panini.  Back in the day, Upper Deck was probably the company I enjoyed purchasing the most.  This was because I bought a lot of basketball cards since I was a huge Jordan fan.  The problem with Upper Deck today is that they don't have a license for the three major sports.  They have to be more clever in releasing products for those sports and do so by having higher quality releases, along with different releases.  The product at the pricepoint I was most interested this year was Goodwin Champions, which is sort of like Allen & Ginter in that it's multi-sport and reminiscent of the tobacco cards.  They have some really cool hits in this product, from the Jordan autographs to the manufactured animal patches and the civil war relics.  I went to my LCS to buy a few packs just to test it out since I'm not in a spot financially to buy a box to judge.  Right off the bat I got one of the manufactured patches.  It was one of the most common ones, but I was able to sell it and profit off the initial packs.  That prompted me to buy a box.

As people who have followed me might know, that box only contained two of the promised three (or more) hits.  They were two junky relics that I ended up giving to a kid who was there with his father.  At least I could salvage the box from a standpoint of making a child happy.  Now, here's where we get to the fun part.  I called Upper Deck support.  The first thing I'm told is that I need a receipt.  This is a problem since my card shop (and I'm assuming many others) don't give itemized receipts.  If you pay by credit/debit card, you have your copy of that, but it just lists the amount you paid.  After reasoning with the representative for some time, I was able for to get her to allow me to get my remaining hit without one.  This is my first experience where I had a box that was missing a hit, so I didn't know the exact procedure.  I am told that I have to ship my box to them at my own expense.  For me to ship it across country, it was $7.  I am told it will take three to four months for them to process my request.  I sent it in about a month ago along with a note jokingly asking for a Jordan autograph, but I'll probably get a piece of Hulk Hogan's shirt, one of the easiest hits to find.

Now here's the problem I have with this whole thing.  I am forced to not only wait 1/3 of a year to get my last card, but I also am forced to pay an additional $7 premium.  This should not be an acceptable practice.  If I were in charge of a company, I would make sure my QA department went over and beyond to correct mistakes that are 100% my company's fault.  I wouldn't make a customer foot the bill and then wait an unreasonably long time to get a card that my company owes him because we messed up.  And to make things worse, I have tweeted at Upper Deck many times.  Not once have I even gotten a response.  It's like they don't even want to acknowledge me as a customer.  Now because of this, they get bad word-of-mouth (or in this case, text-on-screen) advertising.  I want to buy Upper Deck cards.  I want them to take my money.  Until they make things right and fix their mistake, they will not see anything else from me.  Upper Deck needs to take a page out of Amazon's playbook.  If they mess up, they make things right.  They give you what you were supposed to get and then usually also give you something to make up for the mistake.  That is what Upper Deck needs to do.  If they were to send me a box of Fleer Retro, I will gladly retract this opinion on them.  Heck, I'd write a new one on how Upper Deck actually goes out of their way to fix things when they screw up.

I'd like to finish this musing with a positive thought.  I'd like to think that sometime within the next three months a package from California will show up on my doorstep.  It will have the address of the Upper Deck headquarters on it.  I will open that package and will find that Jordan autograph I have wanted since I was 7 or a box of Fleer Retro that will feel like opening a box of cards when I was 7.  That's what I think collecting is about.  Bringing out the child inside to remind us of a simpler time when a man shooting a basketball with his tongue waving through the air was all that mattered in the world.

Update: Speaking of Amazon's awesome customer service, they just won again in my book.  I bought a cooler for my laptop in January for about $30.  About a month ago it wasn't working as well so I contacted Amazon who told me to contact the manufacturer and if the manufacturer couldn't help they would see what they would do.  The manufacturer told me that it's under warranty so I could ship back the cooler at my own expense for a replacement.  $15 shipping on a $25 item.  I contacted Amazon and sure enough, they offered to let me ship it to them free of charge to me and they would overnight me another once they get it.  This is why I love Amazon.  Despite them having no other real competition, they strive to make sure the customer is happy, even when it wasn't their fault there was a problem.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Life of a Hybrid NY Fan

First, I would like to welcome you to Cardboard, Sports, and Television Oh My!  CSTOM.  This is a place where I will mostly talk about things related to collecting sports cards, the sports themselves, and whatever is going on in television that I want to talk about.  Pretty self explanatory title, don't you think?

Now that the short introduction is out of the way, onto the first post.  I guess I should start with defining what a hybrid fan is.  While basketball and hockey are big in this area and soccer gaining ground over the past few years, I will only be discussing baseball and football.  Both sports have two teams.  For roughly 90% (don't look it up) of fans of both sports, you fall as either into either the Yankees/Giants or Mets/Jets camps.  For my purposes, I define a hybrid fan as someone who doesn't fall into either camp.  The rare Giants/Mets or Yankees/Jets fan.  I am the latter.

As a fan of the Yankees, there are certain expectations that define how successful the season is.  If they win the World Series,  the season is considered a success and lived up to appropriate expectations.  If they lose in the World Series, you realize that even a seven game series is a crapshoot and sometimes the worse team wins, such as when the Yankees lose in the World Series.  If they make it to the ALCS and lose, things aren't good.  There might be a need to bring in a top tier free agent who can change team chemistry because if they didn't make it to the WS, there are problems.  If they are defeated in the Division Series, we need to debate on whether or not there needs to be a managerial change.  If, however, the Yankees don't even make the playoffs the proper fan reaction is to want the following:  The manager must be fired.  The GM must be replaced.  The owner should sell the team.  All the players should be designated for assignment.  The world needs to be cleansed because nothing is right.  You get the picture.  To sum it up: they've got to win it all.

Jets fans, however, have different expectations.  While you do want them to win the Superbowl, you understand that it hasn't happened since the late 1960s.  The team has never been really good.  Since I've been watching, the team has ranged from mediocre to losing back to back AFC title games to circus.  The way I see it, never expect the playoffs.  New England has been dominant ever since Tom Brady started throwing the ball and will continue to do so at least until he's gone.  That leaves competing for a Wild Card bid, and with the way the AFC has been, that's rather tough.  Just be happy any time that the Jets make it into the first round.  If they manage to make it to the divisional round, awesome.  If they make it to the AFC championship, well then we've seen one of the best Jets teams in some time.  If they somehow overcome the odds and get to the Superbowl, every Jets fan on the planet should be ecstatic.  If they actually win the whole enchilada the proper fan reaction is: the coaching staff should be given a parade just for them.  The GM should be rewarded with a mansion, tax free.  The owner should just get free money.  All the players should be given guaranteed contracts.  The world will be clean and everything would be grand.

Why do I draw a picture on what to expect for both teams?  I want everyone to understand that as both a fan of the Yankees and the Jets, I have learned to deal with anything a team can throw my way.  Will I be upset if the Yankees collapse?  Of course.  Will I want to skip to next year once the Jets seem to be a non-playoff team with anywhere from 5-8 wins?  Let's just say I wish draft night would come sooner.  This is a healthier fandom then if I was a regular NY fan.  Either I would find it harder to cope with losing or I would find winning to be a rare case. In the end though, it's all about who you want to cheer for.  That's what's great about sports.