If you do not follow the news, there is a supply chain crisis in the United States. That means that shipping companies are delaying the provision of raw materials and finished goods for significant amounts of time. Often the problem is transporting goods or resources from place to place. This has become a serious issue in the hobby. Therefore, we are providing an analysis of the sports card release delays problem
If you want more general explanations of the supply chain crisis, look at this New York Times primer and this more straightforward overview from Slate. It is a massive crisis with severe implications for the global economy.
Sure, it may cause inflation and deprivation. But here in Cardlines, we only care about the most important angle of all: how is this affecting sports cards.
In the early stages of the pandemic, the card business was booming. But even at that time, we experienced our first supply chain-related shortage.
There were shutdowns in China at some factories that produce top loaders. When factories returned to production, they had to obey strenuous Chinese government rules.
That led to a steady increase in the price of toploaders as they grew increasingly harder to purchase. At their peak, packs of 25 were selling for $15. Now you can get them for $5, as the factories in China have revved up their activity.
COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on the supply of paper products before. Remember when getting toilet paper was more challenging than buying a box of retail Prizm?
Now paper is a problem yet again. But the situation has changed significantly. Now, paper-based products producers are having trouble providing customers with adequate supplies. With tankers sitting outside large American ports such as Long Beach and Houston, it is increasingly expensive to import paper, and local supplies are snapped up immediately.
The largest consumers, such as Amazon, can secure ample supplies at competitive prices. However, smaller business concerns are struggling. The back-to-school season exacerbated the issue. Now, of course, the holiday season is making the problem even worse.
The problem is harming numerous products, including, of course, trading cards.
Upper Deck is the worst hit by the crisis. Their main products are hockey cards, and they have been unable to deliver the products fan expect promptly.
Indeed, they announced back in October that 2020-21 Ice and 2021-22 Trilogy would be canceled entirely. Meanwhile, their flagship Series 1 Hockey releases were postponed. As of now, the release date for the hobby box is December 29, and retail is set for release in 2022.
The California-based company explained that the decision was made due to “challenges surrounding production and supply chain management. Unfortunately, while we are going to great lengths to ultimately get product produced, we do not expect things to improve in any sort of meaningful capacity until mid-2022 at the earliest.”
They did not make any reassurances that future products would be released on time. However, the statement continued: “we still have several 2020-2021 products that have yet to release, and we will provide updates on those when we have clarity with regard to their release date.”
Upper Deck has had the most spectacular problems, perhaps because they are a smaller producer. But even the major companies are not immune. For example, Panini has had quite a few delays recently. Unfortunately, however, they do not have the same policy of honesty with their customers that Upper Deck does. Indeed, we have reported on some of their issues with customers in a recent article.
Starting in the middle of 2021, we have seen an increasingly notable slowdown in releases. First, of course, it is noteworthy that the NBA draft took place in late July. But instead of ramping up production for the new class, Panini is still releasing products with the previous class.
In some cases, some of the more critical releases are coming very late. In particular, Donruss Optic seems like a ridiculously out-of-place release when fans had already moved on to the 2021-2022 season.
As a reminder, the 2021-2022 season tipped off on October 19.
As you can see, the Panini method releases all of their products by hook or crook, even if that means issuing cards well into the next season. I mean, should they really have released new basketball products like Flux when Panini could not get its most basic sets out on time?
However, in the past, the company would wrap up its basketball releases close to the conclusion of the playoffs. The fact that delays are biting into basketball, which is the highest priority for Panini, tells the story of a severe problem.
Indeed, according to reports from hobby shops and anecdotal evidence, the new basketball products are not as popular as they were last year or even in the period before the pandemic boom. Collectors and investors are getting pretty sick of all the Lamelo Ball and Anthony Edwards.
Topps has faced a more forgiving schedule than Panini or Upper Deck. The 2021 baseball season concluded before the supply chain crisis reached its height. With the 2022 season still months away, the company has time to prepare for its major flagship releases.
As of now, Topps plans to put out their major releases according to the traditional plan:
The publishers of Magic: The Gathering has faced significant delays in products. On September 17, 2020, the company first acknowledged the problem. A press release read:
“Due to production issues, some Zendikar Rising and Commander Legends products will experience delays at launch.
Production delays have also pushed back the release of Commander Legends Collector Boosters, which will now release November 20. This shift only affects Collector Boosters. All other Commander Legends products are still on track to release on November 6. However, in the Asia-Pacific region, Commander decks associated with Commander Legends will be released on November 20
We appreciate your continued patience during these delays. We know excitement for these products is high, and we plan to deliver them as quickly as possible under the circumstances.”
In October Wizards of the Coast announced further delays:
“For the United States and Canada, Set Boosters will not be available for Prerelease weekend, and fans should anticipate availability delays through release on November 19. However, prerelease Packs, Collector Boosters, and Draft Boosters will be available for Prerelease and early sales, where available, and Draft Boosters will be used for Prerelease event prize support.
Additionally, due to unavoidable logistical delays, Innistrad: Crimson Vow Bring-a-Friend Promos, Companion Play Promos, and Welcome Boosters will not be available for the upcoming Prerelease on November 12. Promotional cards already delivered to local game stores are to be used as prizes, where available.
We’re looking forward to getting Innistrad: Crimson Vow into stores and the hands of players as soon as possible, and we thank you for your patience and understanding.”
The most anticipated Pokémon delayed-release is a computer game rather than a card set. The Pokémon Trading Card Game Live, the anticipated sequel to the current online version, was supposed to come in 2021. However, it will only be available in 2022.
Nonetheless, card releases have also seen some delays. For example, the Pokémon Company was supposed to release the Dragonite V Box in the summer. However, a delay led to its release in December.
Some products that were supposed to be out in October were pushed back earlier in the year. They are all from the Celebrations line. The delayed products include the Pikachu V-UNION Collection, the Lance’s Charizard V Collection, and the Dark Sylveon Collection. The Pokémon company said that these products “may be delayed and unavailable due to uncertain shipping conditions.”
If you think the problems are over when companies finally print the cards, you are a tad optimistic. Many sellers are ordering stock and waiting longer than usual for it to arrive. In addition, the combination of supply chain issues and the holiday season means possible store arrival delays even when products are released on time.
Econ professors or the Wall Street Journal are probably better bets to answer this question. But you are already here, so let’s give this a shot. And they have made attempts to answer this question. However, there is no general agreement. Even the biggest optimists believe that the problems will last well into 2022.
We need to have perspective. Supply chain problems were emerging before the pandemic, and authorities did little to fix the problem. The pandemic pushed it from a serious problem to a full-blown international supply chain crisis. Now there are so many problems it is hard to know where to start with policy remedies. Factories are understaffed, transportation hubs are not fully operational and there is a massive backlog of goods everywhere.
I believe that 2022 will see corporations and ports employ better strategies. However, significant shortages and problems will continue into 2023. The uncertainty surrounding the virus and its many mutations will not help.
That means that printing and shipping problems will continue to delay production. Like so many other parts of life: abnormal is the new normal.
The card companies can do little to solve the supply chain problems. However, they can take steps to alleviate the worst repercussions. First, they need to stockpile materials for releases well in advance. The companies will have to make adjustments to avoid delays. Second, companies can cancel less important releases to focus on having enough material and capacity for the major ones.
Delays due to the supply chain crisis have come at the wrong time for Panini and Topps as they enter the final stretch of their main licenses. The late dates and endless releases, particularly from Panini, create a sense that they merely pump out products with no thought of quality control. Unfortunately for Topps and Panini, Fanatics will be ready to take over when the crisis abates. Nonetheless, we hope that with the experience of 2021 fresh in their minds, the companies will handle 2022 better.