TOPPS MLB BUNT 2016 and Mike Piazza pushed the digital sports technology industry forward with the launch of virtual live Signature Cards over the past weekend during The Baseball Card Show in Atlantic City, and no, U.S. GOP Presidential candidate Donald Trump was nowhere to be seen. Fans at the event in New Jersey and online around the world both took part in a real-time, customized digital autograph signature opportunity in anticipation of collecting a unique, signed trading card the likes of which created huge anticipation amongst card collectors across the nation and worldwide because of Piazza and the ground-breaking platform. The Sports Techie community blog had a chat with Chris R. Vaccaro, Editor-In-Chief, Digital / Director of App Production, TOPPS Company, about the live Signature Card experience as well as working with the New York Mets recent Hall of Fame member whose jersey was ceremoniously retired, and why Piazza decided to commit to this game-changing, authentic card signing sports tech innovation that was electronic history in the making.
We have featured the Topps Company on several blogs as they continue to evolve to meet the demand of modern day card collectors with physical and digital products focusing on the younger generations of millennial and generation Z Major League Baseball fans as well as us Generation X people that are new to the popular hobby. Working with Piazza crosses several generations of loyal Mets fans.
The former 16-year catcher for the Mets, Florida Marlins and Los Angeles Dodgers, San Diego Padres and Oakland A’s crushed 427 home runs, impressive stats. The legend used an iPad and digital stylus in order to create an authentic signed card with personalization and inscriptions to a select number of lucky fans that acquired the “live signature ticket” produced by the Topps MLB BUNT application during the past week. Piazza was on hand to sign other cards, published within 24 hours from anywhere in the world thanks to technological advancements by Topps.
Piazza on digital signing: “It’s kind of cool and different. It’s great for fans who can’t get to some of these appearances. It’s unique and I’m really into the technology. It’s fun and continuing to revolutionize the industry. I hope fans enjoy it. It is electronic, but it is my signature.”
Piazza signed each fans name as: Too fan number one, Mike Piazza. Vaccaro mentioned signatures might evolve to eventually feature specific personalizations such as: Too @THESportsTechie, THE One and Only, as the technology evolves.
— Topps BUNT (@ToppsBUNT) August 7, 2016
As a long-time Dodgers and Piazza fan, I was curious how they got this first major leaguer to conduct the first virtual signature event. He said, “Topps has a well-connected licensing department and a major presence at the Atlantic City National Sports Convention.” Last month, the Mets retired his number 31 jersey. Topps knew he was in town and contacted Mike about receiving a demo of their virtual signage tech. Piazza decided to join in on the fun that day.
A favorite moment for Vaccaro was the epic homerun Piazza hit for the Mets at Shea Stadium in 2001 against the rival Atlanta Braves. The play still resonates with the New York market and country because it was a sign of normalcy returning to America just ten days after the 9/11 terror attacks.
Baseball Card Show
The Topps’ Baseball Card Show booth covered a big area with the physical and digital departments splitting floor space. Around 50 employees attended the event. Vaccaro told me, “The digital team started off with 2-3 people and a single app. The apps and people have grown exponentially.”
What Vaccaro really liked about this event with Piazza was the personalization tier built into the virtual card signage. A Topps social manager is responsible for each fan. Their job is to save the signed files individually therefore allowing them to get to know the fan, then e-mail each fan furthering engagement as this particular card game is played through Topps BUNT.
Topps had 40 total live signature tickets for fans to receive personalizations. Nothing was in-person with Piazza. It was completely virtual. Every fan is able to see their signature on Twitter with individual videos. Twitter hashtags #livesigs and #NSCC16 were used by the @ToppsBUNT handle to further share the unique experience with winners and fans alike.
Vaccaro said, “This type of digital product is unlike anything that has been done before for fans, and we think will open up a new and unique way for fans to engage with the biggest and brightest stars of the game almost in real-time.”
All-Star Game Test
An initial fan test was conducted during the 2016 MLB All-Star game FanFest in San Diego with Mets pitcher Noah Syndergaard that passed with flying colors. This first-of-its-kind consumer facing event presented fans with the opportunity to engage with Syndergaard in person while he signed their digital signatures. The signing was augmented by a “virtual line” of fans that each received personal social media messaging directly from Syndergaard.
Noah was the first to use the iPad and stylist to sign a card file image which is then saved, imported to their CMS system and finally sent out to the fan. This Topps process produces authenticated signatures done by the real player. Mike and his team will make further tweaks after the Mike and Noah experiences and evolve with the athletes.
Vaccaro was excited to attend the All-Star game in California and being able to witness the genuine excitement and emotions of fans that lined up in person and those in the virtual line from around the world. Social media was used to post personalized videos to Twitter. The virtual element for fans included streaming video clips and coverage via Periscope on Twitter along with links to Instagram and Facebook. Noah signed 20 signatures for fans in attendance and another 20 for virtual line fans, in addition to another 25-30 other LGM, “Let’s Go Mets,” packs and a variety of other packs.
“Our digital fans have become more accustomed to accessing and engaging with our content in the digital world more this year than ever before, and we are pleased to be able to work with Mike and his team to create this once in a lifetime digital personalized card to Mets fans, and baseball fans, around the world this Saturday,” added Vaccaro.
Topps MLB BUNT
Use Topps MLB BUNT 2016 to collect favorite MLB teams, players and moments digitally. Be the first to know about breaking new content and exclusive cards released daily basis throughout the season. Next, trade cards with other Topps BUNT community members instantly and around the globe. Vaccaro ensured me all live Signature cards are fully transferable; owners can trade their cards with other app users. The Topps platform makes it easy to trade. Players can use the app to enter cards into contests while earning points in real-time based on card style and player’s actual baseball performances.
Topps MLB BUNT 2016 app is available as a free download via the App Store for iPhone, iPad and iPod touch and the Google Play Store for Android devices. Topps MLB BUNT 2016 is officially licensed by Major League Baseball Advanced Media (MLBAM) and by Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA).
Download the app & chase ’em. http://bit.ly/2aJFY6Z
Now that it is also football season, I queried about the possibility of digital signatures from NFL players. Chris said, “The Company is looking at other apps and relationships with Topps NFL Huddle.”
In terms of the future, I had to know if augmented and virtual reality was in the plans. He said, “Apps will get bigger and faster, and grow with more apps and features with companies. The company is focused on growth.”
Sports Techie, Vaccaro is my connection on multiple social media platforms and I enjoyed speaking with him for the first time about his challenging and fulfilling job at Topps. He said, “Sports and content at Topps is a dream role.”
The first company app launched in 2012 and since then they have designed seven apps in total, including, Topps BUNT®, Topps HUDDLE®, TOPPS KICK® and Topps® Star WarsSM.
The apps are considered freemium becuase they are free to consumers on iOS and Android however there are built in pricing structures such as buying coins to open up packs. By using currency to purchase coins, any collector, new hobbyist or person that collected years ago wanting to get back into the business can earn enhanced products such as live Signature Cards.
I asked him if the selection process was driven by alogorithms and it turns out it is done via a mix of published odds and rarity based system.
Vaccaro was inspired to be working alongside Piazza just a few week after his Baseball Hall of Fame induction with Seattle Mariners icon, Ken Griffey Jr. and just a week after Piazza’s jersey retirement ceremony at Citi Field that included the unveiling of a new “31” sign above the upper left-field deck stands.
Vaccaro shared what it was like to be with Piazza at the event and launch, “It’s not every day you get to work with a hall of famer on a unique project like this. Topps is continuing to revolutionize the baseball card industry with its digital offerings and we’re proud that Mike is the first hall of famer to take part in a digital baseball card signing.”
Topps hit a business and consumer grand slam with fans that received their own personalized, one-of-a-kind, virtual digital signature card.
See y’all later in Seattle, Atlanta and around the world.
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