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Brady the Bowman Backstop: Collectors Chase Tom Brady Baseball Cards

Brady the Bowman Backstop: Collectors Chase Tom Brady Baseball Cards
December 21, 2023
Dylan Dittrich

Photo: Topps

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7 World Series titles. 642 home runs. 3 MVPs.

Tom Brady's achievements and accolades accumulated over a Hall-of-Fame career with the Montreal Expos speak for themselves, at least in the world Topps and Fanatics have imagined.

Through a "What if?" campaign built on Brady's 1995 draft selection by the now-defunct Montreal franchise, Topps has added much intrigue to this year's release of Bowman Draft. The set features cards depicting the football GOAT in an Expos uniform, complete with various signed and unsigned parallels that have become the chase cards of the holiday season. A modern reboot of Jingle All the Way might see Arnold Schwarzenegger frantically visiting card shops and participating in box breaks to procure a Brady card for Jamie. Ironically, the set has created the most excitement around Brady cardboard in the last 18 months, as his football cards continue to decline in value; CardLadder's Brady index is down 52% in 2023 even after plummeting 31% in 2022.

A creative, mainstream marketing push for a niche hobbyist product (to the outsider) is the real story here. In a pre-Fanatics world, few would have predicted Tom Brady pushing baseball cards in a detailed promotional video. There was real effort and investment here, including appearances from Pedro Martinez, Larry Walker, and Vladimir Guerrero. They could have simply asked Tom to post on social media, which would have been easier and less expensive. But you don't grab attention that way. Instead, they created an immersive alternate reality, complete with a commercial-within-a-commercial where Brady pitches "Brady Auto." Sidenote: it's hilarious that in this alternate universe where Brady was a GOAT on the diamond instead of on the gridiron, he becomes a greasy-meets-cheesy car dealer. Guess you could make the argument that suits the resume better than "FTX investor."

So why go to all this trouble?

In a stimulus-heavy, low-interest rate world, hype sold collectible products easily. From cards to sneakers, brands could rely on frenzied secondary markets to ensure products would be greeted with large queues and quick sell-outs. But those days are over. Brands can't trot out the same products and expect the same results. And in the card business, where engaging more of the sports fan population is always the tantalizing target, it takes bold marketing and storytelling to cut through the noise. While some may view the Brady campaign as little more than a goofy gimmick, it returns a sense of fun to a hobby that's supposed to be fun.

But fun turns to frustration when the product becomes harder to buy.

Super jumbo hobby boxes from last year's 2022 Bowman Draft product generally sold for $600-700 in the week after release. The difference this year isn't incredibly pronounced, with some sales rising into the $700-800 range. The delta in jumbo hobby box prices is similar year-over-year. However, it's worth considering that this year's broader market is softer than last year's, so any price increase is notable.

The average price of card singles sold on eBay in the first week after release is up from $23.80 for 2022 Draft to $41.21 for 2023. Last year during that week, just four cards sold for more than $3,000, with the top price being $3,650 paid for Elijah Green's Orange Refractor Auto. As you might imagine, it's a different story in 2023. Thirteen cards from the set have sold for over $3,000 on eBay. Eight of those belong to the legendary Expos catcher. Brady's Gold Refractor Auto, numbered to 50, sold for $18,201 at the end of last week, which was followed up with a $16,400 sale of another example two days later.

Those numbered parallels are likely to sell for big sums in the near term as they find their way out of packs, into slabs, and to auction. But none will compare to the grail of the set: Brady's 1-of-1 Superfractor Auto. Ending the suspense early, that card was pulled in a break by Triple Diamond Sports Cards and Collectibles last week. There were rumored bounties for that card and the Gold parallel numbered 12 out of 50, with sums that would put them in the mix with some of the most expensive Brady Championship Ticket rookies. The chase goes on for that Gold Auto parallel, as well as the Orange counterpart.  Those cards carry unique inscriptions:  "if baseball doesn't work out, there's always football," and "Allons aux Expos!"

Topps further capitalized on the attention, offering Topps Now cards depicting Bill Belichick as the Expos manager. Special inserts carry a "Tom can hit, but can he throw?" inscription. Topps had fun with this release, and it shows. That fun is contagious, and it's hard to dismiss its absence in recent years.

Sustainable success can't be built on a string of special offerings that become dilutive and gimmicky over time. An underlying commitment to creativity and collector experience, though, can form a foundation for growth. It's the refusal to go through the motions every season that will win both collectors' admiration and greater mainstream interest.

Now if you'll excuse us, we're heading down to Brady Auto to catch some major league savings.


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