Topps, the leader in baseball trading cards for decades, hopes to take that expertise and tradition to the growing base of U.S. soccer fans, particularly young ones, for whom Major League Soccer is becoming the sport of choice.
This week, Topps and MLS launched the 2014 Topps ® MLS Soccer card set, billed by the tandem as "the most comprehensive and engaging soccer trading card product ever in North America." The line will include current players, American soccer legends and a selection of 10 Mexican National Team players.
Zvee Geffen, Topps MLS Brand Manager, thinks the iconic company can take the soccer trading card to a new level in America.
"Most recently with Upper Deck, they did a pretty standard card," he said of the history of soccer cards here. "But there was nothing groundbreaking there. We hope to take it further, give the traditional card something more of interest to fans.
While Topps had success with a Premiere League series in Europe, Geffen notes that although the sport is the same, the strategy stateside is quite different.
"It was a little bit of a different target," he explained. "The Premiere League was a higher cost per pack and per card -- it was a high end soccer release, targeted towards those with disposable income."
Instead, Topps' new line is aimed towards a younger demographic, one that reflects the growing young fan base in the U.S.
"The age 12-24 group is very engaged with MLS," added Geffen. "They may not necessarily have grown up with the trading cards, they may not have yet experienced that kind of collecting."
In addition to the present-day stars, Geffen sees the market expanding with the inclusion of past greats, many of whom are still closely connected with the sport.
"We've incorporated some of the icons like Alexi Lalas, Tab Ramos, Eric Wynalda, Cobi Jones, guys who continue to be great ambassadors of the game," said Geffen.
And the timing seemingly couldn't be better, with the World Cup set for this summer in Brazil. It was the team's success, noted Geffen, in the 2002 event in Korea/Japan, that gave the U.S. international respect and was a key point for the league's success.
As for other features, Geffen said Topps is not yet ready to commit to QR codes or other digital elements until they become the right fit.
"I think looking long term, there will have to be some kind of digital integration," he forecasted. "I can see a few years down the road [doing so], but we haven't come up with the correct idea yet. I don't think we are in a position to force it down the throats if it's not a proper fit."
But in a nod to the times, Topps has partnered with Bloomberg Sports to increase the presence of advanced statistics on the card backs, a new feature that Geffen is quite proud of.
For now, MLS fans and collectors alike will be treated to a high-quality, traditional trading card, which, just like the league, has plenty of room for growth.