E-Mail Campaign on Deck for Topps

Trading card firm The Topps Co. Inc. will kick off its first e-mail campaign for a new online sports entertainment venture called etopps.com.

Spending an estimated $500,000, the New York company will push between 800,000 and 900,000 HTML e-mails over two drops — one on Sept. 10 and another on Sept. 17 — to sports card collectors, online sports fantasy game players and general sports fans.

“The trading card market has not been growing in terms of the number of collectors, and our challenge is to reverse that trend and start bringing more people into the trading card category,” said Warren Friss, vice president of Internet business at Topps.

There are an estimated 6 million card collectors and 25 million to 30 million fantasy sports players in the United States. With $439.3 million in sales last year, the 63-year-old Topps is one of the key players in the card market.

The e-mail will prep prospects for the Sept. 24 debut of etopps, where visitors can buy limited edition cards. They can also build an online portfolio or trade collections via a link to eBay.com.

“We want to acquire registered users and then convert them into buyers,” said Daniel Manco, marketing director at the Topps Internet Group.

As part of its call to action, the missive will ask recipients to register for a sweepstakes. The top prize is a trip for two to Super Bowl XXXVI in New Orleans in January or the 2002 Major League Baseball All-Star Game in Milwaukee in July.

Registration data collected includes name, address, e-mail and favorite sports. The e-mail also asks if the recipient is a sports fan, card collector, music junkie or online investor, among other things.

Once the information is submitted, an e-mail address again must be entered. This is to meet opt-in requirements of DoubleClick, New York, the company that provided the lists of consumers that fit Topps' audience profile.

After registration, the confirmation page reloads and takes the consumer to a preview site before etopps.com launches. Once the site launches, consumers will be taken directly to that location.

Topps is testing against three creative approaches. One message focuses on etopps' ongoing print advertising campaign. Another talks about the etopps.com brand. The third centers round the Topps brand. All bear the sweepstakes offer.

“It's based on who's on the prospective list and it's also based ultimately on these two rounds of tests and which creative works best with which targets,” Manco said.

New York advertising agency Shephardson Stern & Kaminsky handles the etopps account.

Besides e-mail, a range of marketing initiatives will promote etopps. Supporting tactics include print ads in card collectors' and fantasy game players' trade publications, guerrilla marketing and public relations.

Also, every third pack of trading cards for certain products will carry an insert about etopps. After etopps debuts, Topps will use DoubleClick's FloNet Web-based system to handle customer retention efforts.

E-mail is critical in Topps' game plan.

“Anytime you launch a new Internet product, particularly in this new environment after what's happened in the past year and a half, the challenge is to show results fairly quickly and to start building momentum right out of the gate,” Manco said. “You can try the traditional brand approach of Pets.com spending $35 million on television. People remembered the sock, but did they buy anything? Well, no. And so, one of the reasons we're focused on e-mail is to get results quickly and to be able to demonstrate ROI for those results.”

The Topps e-mail will come on the heels of the $5.7 million acquisition last week of thePit.com. This online stock market for sports trading cards claims more than 300,000 unique visitors each month.

“We'll more than likely be doing some cross-marketing with them, but it's not being integrated into etopps, per se,” Manco said.

But while thePit.com will build Topps' collectible business and open more doors, etopps will not be positioned merely as an online trading card site.

“Because if you did that, you turn away the fantasy game players and you turn off the sports fans,” Manco said. “etopps really is a sports entertainment experience where you can go and use what you know about baseball, football, basketball and hockey to play a game.

“The game is centered around collecting these cards, but it's really about building the value of your portfolio and sharing with people that you know more than them and that you really are an expert in sports.”

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