I’ve been studying hockey cards a lot more recently, and I realized while piecing together the 1984 Topps page for the Unopened Archive that the company didn’t produce any hockey cards for the 1982-83 or 1983-84 seasons. After doing some more reading, there seem to be a few related reasons why having to do with stickers and profitability.
Both the 1981-82 Topps basketball and hockey sets had a unique regional distribution model intended to create a buzz among collectors, but it didn’t work.
Many collectors/dealers from the early 80s have stated that the basketball sets in 1980 and 1981 didn’t sell well and resulted in a ton of returns; both basketball sets were complete flops (and considered junk until around 1988). So I have to presume that in America, where Topps hockey cards were released, the early 80s hockey sets didn’t sell very well either.
Plus, Fleer and Donruss had just entered the baseball card market a few years earlier (1981) and started eating into Topps’ most popular market, so they needed to make a change to survive the competition.
Therefore, I believe that the decision not to print hockey (and basketball) cards was about focusing on their far more popular baseball cards, a supply/demand economic decision to drive company profitability. Topps only took a two-year hiatus for hockey (OPC kept printing cards) but would take a much longer pause for basketball cards and not release another basketball set until 1992.
However, the Wikipedia entry for the O-Pee-Chee company says, “In the 1980s, O-Pee-Chee (and Topps) produced annual album and sticker series for hockey and baseball (with the stickers produced by Panini). The stickers were so popular that Topps neglected to produce a hockey card series in either 1982-83 or 1983-84 (in fact, the stickers were so popular that by 1987-88, Panini had obtained its own license to produce NHL stickers in Canada).”
That section in Wikipedia does not have a reference/source. So I have doubts that Topps exclusively printed hockey stickers in 1982 and 1983 due to their popularity. I think it had to do with sticker profitability. The sticker business model probably reduced Topps’ risk exposure in the hockey market while keeping their name relevant. Remember, the stickers were printed in Italy by Panini.
After two years of just printing hockey stickers, Topps came back to the card market in 1984-85 with a 165-card set.
Do you think Topps took a two-year pause from cardboard because of poor sales, sticker profitability, or both? Let me know in the comments, or send me a message on Twitter. Happy collecting!