Leading the way, the Hobby Heavyweight interview…

There is no doubt that the online world has done a lot to move our hobby along. Message boards and blogs provide collectors a place to trade, share info, and just simply talk about the cards they love. I don’t think you can pinpoint on person that lead the charge but you can point to one guy that has helped move it forward in a major way.

From his time as the head of Beckett to his current role at Panini Tracy Hackler has been a very visible face and voice of the hobby. Next to players he may be one of if not the most well know figure in the hobby.

In his time with Panini he’s opened the door to collectors, pulling back the curtain on the design, production, packaging and quality control process.

Tracy was nice enough to take some time to share his thought on the hobby and talk about his time at Beckett and Panini. He had a ton to say so grab a cold beverage and give it a read.

K- Tell us about when you first got into collecting?
Tracy- I started collecting in the late 1970s with my brother, Tim. We grew up in Arlington, Texas, and spent good chunks of our summers and our allowance buying football and baseball cards at the 7 Eleven on the corner. I have wonderful memories of those years and I credit card collecting with the tremendous bond I have with my brother to this day.

o K- Did you favor one sport, team or player?
Tracy- I was always a football-first guy and still am, but during those same summers we’d alternate between playing football and sockball on the street in front of our house. I was a huge fan of all the Texas Rangers of the time, guys like Bump Wills, Richie Zisk, and Jim Sundberg. But my favorite baseball player of all time is Carlton Fisk.
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I was a huge fan of the local teams back then in the Rangers and Dallas Cowboys. But something changed in me during a party my family held during Super Bowl XII between the Cowboys and Denver Broncos. Perhaps I was being a contrarian, but in a house full of folks hating on the Broncos for reasons I didn’t completely understand at the time, I developed an affinity for them. I’ve been a diehard Broncos guy every day since.

• K- When/How did you decide to make it your career?
Tracy- Well, I decided at a pretty early age that I wanted to do something in sports for as long as I absolutely could. And although I played sports all the way through high school, I also discovered pretty early that my limited athletic abilities wouldn’t allow me to play them past that for anything other than recreation.
But I’ve always been a big fan of sports journalism and I started working on my high school newspaper during my sophomore year. Back then it was called the Silver Bulletin; luckily we changed the name to the Marcus Marquee during my junior year.
I majored in sports journalism at the mighty University of North Texas
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and was fortunate enough to land an internship at what was then Beckett Publications during the summer of 1995. As a collector growing up, Beckett was always something of a dream gig and I did everything in my power to make sure that internship turned in to a full-time gig. It didn’t at first. I went to work for a Dallas-area newspaper covering high school sports when my internship ended. Four months later, Beckett called with an offer I wouldn’t have refused no matter what it was.
And I’ve been living the dream in this industry ever since. There’s not a day that goes by that I’m not truly thankful for the opportunities I’ve been blessed with.

• K- Where you part of the decision making team that created the Beckett Sports card monthly?
Tracy- I was, yes.

o K- Why did you move to a multi-sport format?
Tracy- At the time, we felt that producing monthly sport-specific magazines and bi-monthly Plus magazines was essentially stuffing too much similar printed product down a channel that was moving increasingly online and in an industry that wasn’t exactly booming. So we spent a lot of time researching and developing a meaningful multisport magazine, something that had never been done at Beckett Media.
I was heavily involved in the editorial creation of Beckett Sports Card Monthly and really enjoyed working on it. I’m proud of the finished product. We didn’t have another magazine on our roster that enabled us to take advantage of hot properties such as Michael Phelps and mixed martial arts. BSCM afforded us those opportunities while also giving us the freedom to examine more global trends in the sports collectibles industry.

• K- What did you like most about working at Beckett?
Tracy- There are way too many things I enjoyed to narrow it down to only one. Creating magazines from scratch every month is a real thrill and the people I did that alongside made the experiences even more rewarding.
Working at Beckett allowed me to meet and interview some of the greatest players in professional sports, including personal favorites such as John Elway and Tim Tebow.

• K- What was the one article or piece you are most proud of from your time with Beckett?
Tracy- Man, that’s a tough question. I worked on so many great projects at Beckett over the span of 11 years. I’m proud of the stuff I did covering the Tim Tebow phenomenon for ESPN.com as a member of Beckett Media. Being mentioned in Rick Reilly’s “Life of Reilly” column in Sports Illustrated, and bringing positive mainstream attention to sports cards in the process, is something I’ll always remember.
A lot of our special “one-shot” titles – covering the 50 greatest QBs all time, the 50 greatest basketball players, World Series winners, Super Bowl champions, stuff that provided a break from the norm – stand out to me, too.

• K- Why do you think Beckett gets so much flak from some collectors?
Tracy- It’s fashionable to bag on Beckett. It always has been. We always felt we were doing something right because the people who bashed us and the people who supported us were typically split right down the middle.
Beckett is by no means perfect, but they take their job of cataloging, pricing and covering the sports card industry very seriously. There’s a lot of hard work that goes on over there behind the scenes that goes largely under appreciated.
Their place in this industry has changed a lot over the years, but there’s no denying that they remain in a leadership position in terms of what they do and they remain one of the most well-known names in the history of sports collecting. That’s not a coincidence.

K- Do you think the price guides still have a place now that there are large online sites like ebay that many use to determine value?
Tracy- Yeah, I think a Price Guide like Beckett, backed by decades of research and history and reputation, will always have a place in this industry. It would be virtually impossible for anyone else to do what they do and to recreate their databases and data history.
Their critics are vocal, so a lot of what people hear is the harsh criticism. But there still are seemingly countless people who revere Beckett and still wait by their mailbox or visit their local hobby shop for the next issue.

• K- Was working at Beckett as much fun as it looked in the videos?
Tracy- Absolutely. I’ve been blessed to work in this industry for more than 16 years and there are times when I still have to pinch myself to make sure that it’s really happening. From Beckett to Donruss, back to Beckett and now Panini America, I always try to have fun. There’s not a day that goes by that I’m not having a good time while trying to deliver something of merit to the collecting universe, more specifically, the Panini America collecting universe.

K- At both Beckett and now Panini the video breaks you do are very well done. Are you the mastermind behind their production?
Tracy- Well, “mastermind” is a really strong word. But both at Beckett and here at Panini America, I’ve always just tried to be myself, have fun and, hopefully, entertain the collectors watching in the process.

• K- When you guys do the unwrapped breaks do you ever get to keep the cards?
Tracy- Unfortunately not. On almost every break we do, the ones who get to keep the cards are the people watching at home. We value our strong relationship with our collectors and we’re always looking for ways to give back to them. They’re the ones who allow us to do what we do and they’re the ones who invest their resources watching our videos and purchasing our products. It’s only right that we give back to them at every opportunity.

• K- Why did you decide to make the move to Panini?
Tracy- I just thought the opportunity was too tremendous to pass up. I wasn’t looking to make a move when Panini America CEO Mark Warsop called me to discuss the opportunity. But out of my respect for him and the great strides he’d made with Panini America in a really short time, I owed it to both of us to hear what he had to say. Obviously, I liked what I heard.
I can honestly say that the last year under Mark and Jason Howarth, our VP of Marketing, has been the most rewarding and exciting of my career. When I think about how much we’ve accomplished and how much we’ve done, I realize how lucky I am to be here. I can’t wait to see what’s next.

• K- When you joined Panini where you given a roadmap for the blog or did you create that on your own?
Tracy- Yeah, Mark and Jason had a definite plan in mind for what they wanted The Knight’s Lance to be. But they’ve given me a tremendous amount of latitude in executing their vision. In short, we wanted to be our own definitive voice for everything that we do, from new products to promotions to player interviews and seemingly everything in between. And we also wanted to give collectors unprecedented access to our people and to how we do things across the board.
Mark and Jason – and really every department in the company – have been instrumental in making the blog so successful. There’s a great deal of trust required in letting your guard down and giving people behind-the-scenes access to the creative, production, product development and customer service areas and our entire company has been fantastic.
We’re doing things that no other company is doing and we’ll continue pushing the envelope.

• K- The online world of blogs, twitter, message boards are very much a part of the hobby, when did you first get the sense this was the way things were moving?
Tracy- Beckett Media has had a robust message board community for a number of years, so that aspect of the hobby has been going strong for a long time. I think we first saw how powerful independent blogs could be two or three years ago. It’s amazing to see how much blogs, Facebook, Twitter and all of social media have impacted not just the collectibles industry, but all industries. There’s a sense of immediacy and intimacy now that you never had before, and we’ve tried to embrace that here at Panini America. That phenomenon only intensifies as the days pass. This is an exciting time in terms of how information is disseminated and consumed and we’re thrilled to be one of the leaders for our industry.

K- As a marketing professional how much of an impact would you say social media has had on your field?
• Tracey- The impact has been overwhelming and, for the most part, overwhelmingly positive. We know how important it is to reach our consumers where they are, and many of them are on Facebook and Twitter. That creates a situation where your audience never sleeps. And that, of course, means we’re up at all hours addressing Tweets or engaging fans on Facebook. It is incredibly exciting.

• K- Was there any concern from colleagues at Panini about opening the doors to the design, production and pack out process?
Tracy- Initially, I think there was. But I think I have a keen sense of news judgment while also understanding what is compelling to the collector and how allowing them to peek behind the curtain benefits the entire category.
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I’ve had the great fortune of working with many of the people inside this building on two separate occasions and there’s a trust factor there on both sides of the equation that really makes what we do sing.
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• K- Panini sends products to bloggers for review, do you read those reviews?
Tracy- I do read those reviews and enjoy reading them. Our management and product development teams read those reviews as well. We realize that not everyone is going to like everything we do. We really appreciate constructive criticism not only from reviewers but from our collectors in general. That’s what helps us continue improving our products.

• K- You have had the chance to interview a ton of players, who was your favorite?
Tracy- Personally, my interviews with Denver Broncos such as John Elway, Tim Tebow, Von Miller, Eric Decker, Rod Smith and Terrell Davis, are especially memorable. But I think the best interview I’ve ever done – and it had nothing to do with me – was the one I did recently with Michael Irvin. That guy is off the charts in terms of his charisma and his passion. He had me willing to run through a brick wall for him. I’ve watched that thing no less than 10 times and I still get goose bumps every time.

• K- What do you collect?
Tracy- Primarily Denver Broncos past and present and MMA stuff. The Panini Sticker Collections for our sports and entertainment properties are fun to do with the kids as well.
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Tracy is one of the coolest guys out there and a true friend to the blogging community.

I have a lot more to ask and he has a lot more to say so hopefully we can have round two and get a little more inside the man’s head.

-K-

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2 responses to “Leading the way, the Hobby Heavyweight interview…

  1. Pingback: The Card Beat: Sports Collectibles News for November 15, 2011

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