The sticker and trading card market is an ever-changing landscape, with sporting events, films and new licensed brands creating regular sales peaks, along with new titles and the introduction of multi-media to traditional game play.
The latest increase in revenues for many suppliers in the sector was the FIFA World Cup. It is important, however, that as well as reaping the rewards of such highs, companies maintain a broad portfolio of products and look ahead to the next big craze, in order to keep sales from tumbling once such an event is over.
Steve Buckmaster, sales director at Esdevium Games, says: “It really is a fast moving category, we have just come out of three months of World Cup collectables dominating the category. Outside of this, we do our best to maximise opportunities that come from movies or entertainment properties, whilst at the same time concentrating on the steady sellers, Pokémon, Yu-Gi-Oh, Gogo’s Crazy Bones and Match Attax.”
Jess Tadmor, head of marketing at Panini UK, agrees: “The FIFA World Cup 2010 Sticker collection and our FIFA World Cup Adrenalyn XL cards are performing extremely well, as are other hot properties such as Hello Kitty, Shrek 4 and Toy Story 3.
“We expect this season’s launch of the Champions League and the Scottish Premier League to go well, as well as our upcoming sticker collections on Disney Princesses and World of Cars. Harry Potter is also expected to do very well.”
Traditionally collectable products, TCGs are increasingly being enhanced with new gaming mechanisms in an attempt to add to their value.
Peter Adkinson is the CEO of Hidden City Entertainment and played a key role in publishing some of the most iconic TCGs. He founded Wizards of the Coast and guided the development of the first collectable card game, Magic: The Gathering.
He explains: “The notion of trading cards with gaming elements started with Magic: The Gathering in 1993. Until the late 90s, this was a phenomenon limited primarily to the hobby/game industry.
“But Pokémon and Yu-Gi-Oh both changed that. Both games were inspired by Magic, but were intended for the broad market from the get-go. Over the last ten years, the game and entertainment sub-category of trading cards has rivalled, and perhaps even transcended, the magnitude of sports trading cards.”
Sports cards firms are also adding gaming, as David Smyth, brand manager, Topps explains: “Kids enjoy being engaged by the collections and game play is a wonderful way to encourage the swap and share, as kids hunt out powerful cards or try out new tactics and purchase more packets to build decks.
“Topps Match Attax is currently the world’s best selling TCG and the popularity of the Match Attax World Championships reflects just how important the gaming elements are to collectors. With the final of the championships taking place in the centre circle of a Barclays Premier League game, the gaming element is a crucial part of bringing the collector closer to the collection.”
Further possibilities have been bought about by advancements in technology. Jonathan Rose, sales and marketing director, Cartamundi tells ToyNews that new technologies are helping boost the sector: “Our mission is to link this product category to what we call multi environment play – not just the playground, but onto internet, mobile phone and social networking, etc.”
Luke Hillier, co-founder of Click Distribution, agrees: “The internet in particular has had a huge affect on the collectables market, you just have to look at the success of Club Penguin currently, which is a TCG that you can also play online for an extremely young age group.
“The internet has enabled the publisher to have a much wider range of distribution.”
In order to widen the audience for the sector, many publishers have also turned to the girls’ market. Perhaps the most prominent is Bella Sara from Hidden City Entertainment. Adkinson comments: “While hobby, game and comic book stores remain primarily male oriented, the trading card section in the mass market is diversifying to include a minority of products geared toward girls.
“Bella Sara is the anchor for girls in this section, having held a consistent presence in this aisle at retailers worldwide for three years. In addition, trading cards and stickers for properties like Club Penguin, Twilight, High School Musical, Hannah Montana, Toy Story and Looney Tunes have recently expanded.
“In Europe, stickers have sold well to girls and they are now becoming more common in the US, often merchandised with trading cards.”
Once all the elements of a successful product are in place, suppliers plan heavyweight marketing to increase consumer awareness and excitement around the ranges.
There are many different approaches to such campaigns, from gaming tournaments to traditional marketing, to online sponsorships.
Tomy recently took on distribution of Upper Deck’s Dinosaur King TCG in the UK. Rob Hooley, marketing and community support, Tomy explains: “Our marketing plans for this year include targeted competitions in kids’ press, magazine covermounts and print advertising in suitable publications.
“There are also plans for online and TV advertising and following on from a pilot programme of after-school club sessions, there are a number of live demonstrations at various events over the summer.
“To aid retailers, we are offering a limited two-for-one promotion over summer and for the first time making in-store promotional events available to help create destinations for fans of the TCG and Dinosaur King.”
Tadmor explains Panini’s emphasis on retailers: “We develop retailer specific display solutions, with the convenience sector developing units that fix to the till areas and grocery opting for signage units that are displayed near newspaper newsquads, directing consumers to the kiosk to purchase stickers.
“We have also developed POS options for independent retailers that are available on request, plus we have an Independent Sales Club, where flyers are sent out every quarter advising of upcoming collections and the marketing support planned.”
Despite such a convincing formula, the sector has experienced mixed fortunes over the past year. Many found that after an initial dip with the onset of the recession, sales have picked up. Others weren’t touched by the economic downturn.
Rose offers: “The overall market changed considerably, not least with the loss of several major retailers in the prior year. We saw a decline in certain properties, but through a new strategic direction, we grew the overall business, setting the platform in place for future growth in months and years to come.”
Buckmaster reflects: “2009 was our best year ever. The category seemed to hold up well, possibly the lower price points you find in collectables helped, but so many of the core collectables did very well.
“2010 is more difficult to predict, the recent World Cup collectables have been hugely successful, but they have taken a chunk out of other brands in this category.”
Hillier agrees: “Sales in the last 12 months in this sector have been pretty buoyant, it would appear that the low retail price on this type of product has been the last to suffer during the recession.”
Tadmor believes the sector has been hit: “The market has been tougher throughout the economic downturn, but with our low price point compared to other licensed products, we have faired far better than other categories. We have had to be more aggressive with marketing campaigns, whilst at the same time being innovative and proactive.”
Over the next year, suppliers are planning to surge forward with new licences and ranges. Now that Bella Sara is established, with its 12th range on shelves, the firm is planning to launch Collectors Editions.
Panini expects its Champions League trading card and sticker collection to perform well and is working with Disney on its release of Tron. Also new is a sticker collection on Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows for the movie release.
Other new licences include Cars 2, Tangled and the Scottish Premier League Sticker collection.
Ruth Leonard, brand director, entertainment, Topps explains: “Topps have a number of exciting product launches happening in the next six months. On the entertainment front, Toy Story 3 Trading Cards launch in June and Topps are currently working on another big name property for a back to school release in September.”
Also new for Topps is WWE Icons sticker collection, WWE Slam Attax Mayhem TCG, Force Attax, the new Star Wars Clone Wars TCG and the next Club Penguin release. Match Attax is back for another Barclays Premier League season in October.
Buckmaster concludes: “The good news on the category is that there is always something new. The next couple of months see a lot of good things, we have the new series of Gogo’s Crazy Bones; Superstars, which is the first new set for a year. We also have the new Premier League Season for Match Attax.”