Trading cards have been around since the 1950s, when the Topps Company first packaged their cards with Bazooka bubblegum. But by 2012, people were ready to collect and trade digital cards on their phones.
That’s when Topps launched MLB BUNT, an app designed to bring baseball card collecting to an online audience, says Jay McDowall, Director, Analytics and Finance for Mobile Apps at The Topps Company, Inc. “Our goal has always been to give fans another way to enjoy their fandom.”
Global fandom goes mobile
Trading card fandom spans all forms of sports and reaches into entertainment properties. “A big part of our business is licensing, since the markets we can address with our mobile app are more global than physical trading cards,” McDowall says. “Certain intellectual properties are more appealing due to the global scale.”
Topps’ sports apps are a mix of card collecting and fantasy sports, since the digital cards earn points in the app based on how the athletes perform on the field. New cards are released multiple times a day, 365 days a year, giving fans something to chase any time they pick up the app.
“It’s our way of helping people connect with the things they love,” McDowall says. And there are always new ideas under consideration.
Helping ‘Star Wars’ awaken on mobile platforms
Though the Topps Company became famous for baseball cards, they’ve also had a license with the biggest entertainment property in the universe since 1977, and in 2015 launched STAR WARS™: Card Trader, the first non-sporting card trader app. The app included digital cards for Star Wars: The Force Awakens before physical cards for the movie were released, a first in the industry — a change in strategy that McDowall partly credits to App Annie data.
“We noticed that people aren’t playing with mobile trading cards to play — they’re playing to collect achievements and find new cards,” McDowall says. With App Annie Store Intelligence, “we saw that many [high performing apps] have continuous gameplay with constantly fresh content, and that helped to inform our strategy.” “It’s common in the industry to push a major content release once a month,” McDowall says, “but we freshen our content several times a day.” That includes releasing hard-to-find cards, which he says can “gain almost a mythical status.”
Keeping an eye on the competition with App Annie
To power their decision making for development and licensing, McDowall says the team continually assesses the marketplace with data culled from App Annie Store Intelligence. “We plotted the top 250 app publishers and study how they move from total downloads to revenue,” McDowall explains. With App Annie, it’s quick to compare and analyze the compiled information. Now they can more easily get a sense for “what we could achieve with that license or mechanic for our apps.”
“App Annie data is essential for making localization decisions. What are fans in France interested in? Now we know.”— Jay McDowall
With App Annie, Topps could also easily track their global app rankings. This data made clear how popular their soccer app, Topps KICK,, was in Europe, where they are also serve a large audience of Android users. The team soon gave Android development a much bigger role in their European strategy.
“Now that we have a proven app business model,” McDowall says expansion is on the horizon by broadening the licensing portfolio. New apps are always in the works, and we keep a close eye on App Annie to see where the fans are, and if fans want it, he says, Topps can make it happen — with help from App Annie’s insightful data.