Recently, I wrote an article discussing Topps’ rivals Donruss and Fleer’s entry into the baseball card market in 1981. Well, a similar thing occurred in the basketball industry during the late 80s and early 90s with the arrival of Hoops and SkyBox to challenge Fleer. This article will look at the marketing clash that came about during a period marked by excessive card production.
First, a little background. Topps left the basketball card market after their 1981 release, and Fleer took over in 1986 with their now popular (but not at the time of release) set that was their first in basketball since 1961.
Fleer stood alone in the market for the next two years with their 1987 and 1988 sets before being joined by Hoops in 1989.
It feels like Fleer was caught off-guard by Hoops and didn’t do much of anything different for their 1989 set. While the Hoops set is now considered an over-reduced “junk wax” era set, the company went on a marketing blitz that kicked off making basketball cards cool and popular again, mainly because they included a David Robinson card (which Fleer didn’t have).
The competition was needed and went into overdrive in 1990 when SkyBox joined Fleer and Hoops in the market.
So, in 1990, Fleer did what Topps did in 1981 and relied on their longevity in the market as a strength in advertising the set as their 5th Anniversary Edition.
They also included Rookie Sensation cards (featuring David Robinson in the ad); realizing their exclusion in 1989, they also included rookie cards in the set like Tim Hardaway and Shawn Kemp. Fleer also called the cards an “action-packed” series (a knock on Hoops 1989 ad picture above).
Hopps marketed themselves as the “Leader of the packs” in their 1990 marketing.
They wrote that their set was the hottest release the previous year and was even better in 1990. Hoops would have a few other ads for their Series II cards, highlighting them as a way to learn NBA trivia.
But the company that caused the biggest stir in the hobby in 1990 was SkyBox, which issued two series of cards with gold borders and artsy backgrounds.
In the ads, SkyBox highlighted their cards were designed with technical innovation and had the most exciting action shots. They also had a few exciting free offers, like a LogoMan card, that I wrote about a few weeks ago.
The basketball card market continued to grow over the next few years. In 1991, Upper Deck would join the trio, and in 1992 Topps came into the fold with a base and Stadium Club set, and Fleer also released a premium product, Ultra. The hobby got crowded in 1993 with Action Packed Hall of Fame, Finest, Fleer, Topps, Jam Session, SkyBox Premium, Stadium Club, Topps, Ultra, and Upper Deck competing for collector’s dollars.
Ultimately, all of these sets would be incredibly overproduced. However, I think these cards, and how the NBA started marketing their superstars (David Robinson and Shaq in particular), helped make the league what it is today. Happy collecting, and don’t forget to subscribe to the Post War Cards Newsletter.